World leaders came together last week in New York City and adopted a set of relevant, achievable and measurable goals to lift the world out of poverty and hunger, address climate change and take action for the betterment of human lives everywhere.
All 17 goals adopted are important and key to achieving sustainable development. But just as important is the protection and preservation of our global cultural heritage. It was a glaring omission. Relegated to two general targets under Goal 4 (4.7) and Goal 11 (11.4), the message conveyed is: cultural heritage is important but not that important.
Ironically, murderous, ignorant thugs, such as ISIS today and others before them, seem to recognize the critical importance of cultural heritage to human identity, history, and prosperity. They know all too well that the destruction of our cultural heritage translates to the erosion of our common humanity. And the reverse is very true.
Why should we care? Cultural heritage is directly linked to identity. Our heritage informs who we are and how we see ourselves. In its tangible form through monuments and buildings we see incredible human will to innovate and produce. Through the written word, we see poetry, science, math, history and scholarship. Through hydrological systems we see resource conservation; through trade routes we see the building of economies and connections across peoples and civilizations.
These tangible representations of our cultural heritage stand as a visible reminder of the intangible aspects of our heritage, also critical in shaping an inclusive sense of identity. These include "practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills" that people everywhere see as part of their inheritance and what makes them who they are. We internalize the stories we inherit, the rituals and religious practices, the music, the art, even fashion and cuisine. But heritage is also a living thing. The values we inherit from those who came before us, we pass down to our children, enriched by our own experiences and practices.
We need to care because this common thread of human history manifested in our global cultural heritage defines the values that we share as people. Last week in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, King Abdullah of Jordan, said "what separates humanity is miniscule, compared to what we hold in common." Through the preservation of our cultural heritage we reinforce those common values that we all hold dear. We build future generations that relate directly to their heritage and see themselves as an extension of a rich and diverse past. It is this awareness that engages the hearts and minds of people and brings them together regardless of nationality. In my opinion, this is the only recourse to fighting extremism and hatred that we see around us.
Additionally, cultural heritage preservation makes perfect economic sense. Cultural heritage contributes directly and indirectly to economic growth and development.
The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that in 2014 travel and tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10% of global GDP) and 277 million jobs (1 in 11 jobs) for the global economy. They have also documented that the tourism industry grew at a faster rate than the automotive, financial services and health care industries.
In many countries the tourism industry is a major source of national income and employment. In Jordan, for example, total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in 2013 was JD4,852.6 million (20.3% of GDP) and to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 17.9% of total employment (268,000 jobs). The vast majority of visitors to Jordan visit Petra, a World Heritage Site.
Cultural heritage improves living space and quality of life. The Monocle Quality of Life Survey in its ranking of the top 25 cities considered most attractive to live in highlights this point. People want to live in cities where innovation is embraced and where culture is celebrated. In our quest for a better living environment, our cultural heritage yet again provides a lynchpin for success. The communal ground created through culture provides a space for people to come together and share in the experience of beauty and history. It remains a critical factor for connectivity in an increasingly digital world.
In my work at the Petra National Trust we advocate most strongly for the preservation and integrity of our cultural heritage. We do it by raising awareness among decision-makers and leaders (local and national) and through a pioneering cultural education program offered to children ages 7-18. We are fostering a new generation of Jordanians who identify with their rich and diverse heritage, able to think critically and globally, and are civically engaged with a keen sense of responsibility towards their community, their history and common human values.
Last week the world community committed to working together to fight poverty and hunger, save our environment whether natural or built, innovate and improve lives. In 2030 we will come together again to assess how far we would have come. I hope that when we do, we would have gone well beyond the goals we set for ourselves to include targets, policies, legal frameworks and relevant institutions to ensure the successful preservation of our shared cultural and human heritage.
HRH Princess Dana is the Global advocate for cultural heritage preservation and Chair, Petra National Foundation, US Vice President, Petra National Trust, Jordan.