Man Made Disasters

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Man-m ade Disasters

6.4.1 Introduction Even if it is true that our libraries are overflowing with books, never before in the history of mankind has there been a century as destructive to books as the twentieth. Two world wars and numerous armed conflicts have exacted their toll, many totalitarian regimes have purged libraries of publications and what is left is often damage d by water o r fire. Man h as been m ore destruc tive to the cultural h eritage than na ture. Mo st of this damage is caused wilfully. T o list all the causes o f destruction an d damag e in a worldw ide frequen cy and prio rity order is not feasible. Each region has its specific range of problems (Hoeven et al., 1996). Record custod ians may think of disasters as large, catastrophic events such as tor nadoes or flood s – dramatic natural events over which there is little, if any, control. Yet many disasters are events that only affect records w ithin a single repo sitory. But whe ther large or sm all, disasters can threaten the sec urity of record s. A single fire or flood can erase substantial portions of the unique recorded history of a community. To prepare for a disaster, we must first become aware of the potential dangers records face (Read, 1994). ICOMO S, the international NGO dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites, has made its most recent report on Monuments and Sites in Danger available. From more than 60 countries the whole range of man-m ade dangers to cultural heritage is map ped, from the criminality of illegal excavations, the looting of churches for the international art trade, to the imp acts of mass global tourism. T he report is a first step toward recognising and recording monuments at risk, collecting information about the dangers they face, promoting action where catastrophes have already occurred, inspiring further commitments on national and international lev els and pro viding an ad ditional po sitive impulse for existing institutions alre ady at work in this field (Bumbaru, 2000). The follo wing man-m ade disaste rs can be d istinguished and will be briefly discu ssed belo w: war, theft; neglect and vandalism. For further reading on security in general see Agebunde, 1988; Baxi, 1974a; Liston, 1993; Menges, 1990; Nwamefor, 1974; Onadiran, 1986; Shepilova, 1992; Soete et al., 1999; Tefenra, 1986; Thapisa, 1982. 6.4.2 War In situations of wa r archives are exposed to severe risks. It w ould take a very long time to compile a list of all the libraries and archives destroyed or seriously damaged by acts of war, bombardment and fire, whether deliberate or accidental. No list has yet been drawn up of the holdings or collections already lost or endangered. The Library of Alexandria is probably the most famous historical example, but how many other known and unknown treasures have vanished in Constantinople, Warsaw, Florence, or more recently in Bucharest, Saint Petersbu rg and Sar ajevo? S adly the list canno t be closed . Within the fram ework of the Memo ry of the W orld Programme, H. van der Hoeven and J. van Albada attempted to list major disasters that have destroyed or caused irreparable damage during the 20th century to libraries and archives (Hoeven et al., 1996). There are holdings dispersed following the accidental or deliberate displacement of archives and libraries. In the midst of armed struggle cultural heritage is liable to destruction. In isolated cases the records are actually the target of the conflict and are wilfully annihilated, as is illustrated by the destruction of the Records Office in Bo, Sierra Leone. In this case aggrieved citizens swooped on the record office since it was government property and thus represented the enemy (Alegbeleye, 1999; Fröjd, 1997). On the other hand, archives are a good source of useful information for the aggressor. In this instance they are often accidentally damaged in an attempt to hit other targets (Haspel, 1992). Ideally the world...
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