Almost $90 million raised by Aliph to protect heritage sites in conflict areas

The amount was promised by international governments including $50m from the UAE and Saudi Arabia

Excavations around the Al Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq, which is being rebuilt with help from the UAE, Aliph and Unesco after it was serious damaged by ISIS in June 2017.   Photo: AFP
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The second donors’ conference for Aliph, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, was held at the Musee du Louvre in Paris on Monday.

Close to $90 million was promised by international governments, private donors and foundations for the organisation's next five-year cycle.

That figure surpasses the $77.5m raised at the first donors’ conference, held in 2017, also at the Louvre. An earlier meeting with held at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi in 2016, which launched the idea of the foundation. Several key members increased their donations.

On behalf of the UAE, Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, pledged $20m – up $5m on the inaugural pledge.

Prince Badr bin Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Culture, committed $30m, raising his country’s pledge by $10m and matching France’s donation.

“I am encouraging an arms race of generosity,” said Thomas Kaplan, Aliph chairman.

The conference was a success for the small, Swiss-based organisation that prides itself on its ability to act on urgent needs.

This strategy has proven effective, allowing Aliph to respond within two months of the Beirut explosion in August 2020 with funding for the National Museum, Sursock Museum, and Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut.

It was also able to act quickly to create triage scaffolding for the Arch of Ctesiphon in southern Iraq, at risk of total collapse, as well as to preserve intangible heritage, manuscripts, and other forms of knowledge.

The proceedings were opened by a video-streamed speech by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The UAE and France are the key stakeholders in the international alliance behind Aliph, although the increased financial commitment from Saudi Arabia suggests that the kingdom is taking a much greater interest and role in heritage preservation.

Many of the speakers stressed the economic role of cultural heritage, with projects funded by Aliph bringing employment to communities rebuilding after conflict or climate disaster.

According to Al Kaabi, the $80m spent over the last five years helped to create 8,700 jobs.

She said the art market would be brought into focus when tackling the trade in looted antiquities. The plan for stopping the flow of looted materials tended to focus on source countries, with less attention paid to demand.

Al Kaabi also underlined the partnership between Aliph, the UAE government, and Unesco in their collaboration on sites damaged in the battle in the Old Town of Mosul, such as the Al Nuri mosque and the Chaldean Church of Al Tahira.

Kaplan announced that Aliph would be taking a more active role in sites in Yemen, Mali, and Afghanistan. While not explicitly confined to the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia region, Aliph’s activities have tended to concentrate there so far.

Climate change was a key stressor for endangered cultural heritage in addition to conflict and neglect, he said.

The full figure of donations was given as close to $90m at the close of the conference, but that number is likely to rise as several governments will be making concrete commitments in coming months, an Aliph representative said.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 1:57 PM