Avalanche risk management at UNESCO in the context of climate crisis (2023-2024)

This study investigates the transfer of traditional knowledge and hands-on skills that have evolved over generations to inform technological and digital innovations emerging from engineering and scientific research, particularly in the context of addressing future challenges, such as climate change. The project revolves around the Avalanche Risk Management (ARM), which gained recognition when Switzerland and Austria inscribed this practice on the UNESCO representative list of intangible cultural heritage in 2018. This acknowledgment underscores the interlocking of traditional knowledge, the anthropology of technologies, and cutting-edge scientific research, a trend that is increasingly influencing heritage nominations on a global scale, breaking down the traditional divides between the physical and cultural aspects of heritage. Thus, ARM serves as an emblematic case study for delving into the interplay between these diverse forms of expertise, with the overarching goal of devising effective solutions for tackling environmental crises.

To assess this knowledge transfer, the research employs a comprehensive mixed-methods approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies, incorporating measurement and modeling techniques, in-depth descriptions, and on-site observations. The fieldwork involves experts from scientific institutions (WSL), professional practitioners (Swiss Mountain Guide Association), villagers, and the local administration of Les Diablerets, which experienced avalanches in 1984 and 2021. These diverse situations will provide insights into how both scientific and traditional risk management knowledge impact innovations and challenges associated with avalanches among the general population.

Research team : Florence Graezer Bideau, Michel Jaboyedoff (Risk Group, UNIL), Chiara Bortolotto (HAT Research Group), Deepak K.C (Risk Group, UNIL).

Partners : UNESCO Chair on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development, CY Cergy, Paris, Prof. Jürg Schweizer (WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF), Department of Health, Social Affairs and Culture, Canton Wallis and Swiss Mountain Guides Associations, Bern

Recent activities:

  • Science and technology in the sustainabilization of ICH: the case of Avalanche Risk Management, Chiara Bortolotto, International Conference “Safeguarding Living Heritage for Sustainability”, UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office for East Asia and World Bank, Dunhuang, RPC, September 7, 2023.
  • Avalanche risks management as intangible cultural heritage, Florence Graezer Bideau and Chiara Bortolotto, International Conference ”Marginalities, uncertainties, and world anthropologies: enlivening past and envision future”, 19th IUEAS-WAU World Anthropology Congress, University of Delhi, India, October 19, 2023.