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Delegates from across the world approved the Hangzhou Declaration on May 17. Photos Provided to China Daily
Calling for a new approach to sustainable development, participants at a UNESCO congress in Hangzhou advocated placing culture at the heart of public policy.
The Hangzhou Declaration was announced at the UNESCO Hangzhou International Congress held from May 15 to 17 in the capital city of Zhejiang province.
The declaration urges governments, civil society and the private sector to harness the power of culture in addressing the world's most pressing developmental challenges such as environmental sustainability, poverty and social inclusion.
"Culture is precisely what enables sustainability - as a source of strength, of values and social cohesion, self-esteem and participation," said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO. "Culture is our most powerful force for creativity and renewal."
Released at the end of the congress, the declaration is the product of intensive discussions led by more than 100 world-renowned leaders in the field of culture and development who joined forces to prove the inextricable link between culture, sustainable development and lasting peace, said Bokova.
As the largest and most high profile global event in 15 years dedicated to culture and development, the Hangzhou congress brought together ministers and high officials, private companies, experts and members of civil society.
Building on UNESCO's longstanding advocacy of demonstrating the link between culture and development, the declaration brings together a decade of evidence and initiatives to showcase culture's indispensable role in sustainability.
Because of culture's cross-cutting role across a variety of fields, the declaration urges stakeholders in the cultural sector and beyond - such as education, heath and urban planning - to integrate culture in strategies for social growth and development.
"Cultural and creative industries such as tourism or heritage and cultural infrastructure such as museums and public theaters are engines for social dialog and cohesion, as well as for jobs and revenue, especially in developing countries, thereby fighting poverty, unemployment and violence," says the declaration.
It suggests that the creative economy, fueled by the power of new technologies, may be the next new economy following the agrarian, industrial and service economies.
UNESCO said the Hangzhou Declaration is a key step in its advocacy to integrate culture into sustainable development strategies as the international community shapes a new global agenda for sustainable development after 2015.
The Hangzhou congress came at a critical juncture, less than 1,000 days from the 2015 deadline and as the world debates the shape of new global post-2015 development agenda.
The Hangzhou Declaration is expected to play a crucial role in helping to set the terms for that debate and to push for the full integration of culture into post-2015 development goals.
Some of the delegates at the conference shared their experience how to use culture to affect local development and people's lives.
Michaelle Jean, UNESCO's special envoy for Haiti, said aid programs in the country that have the greatest impact are those that incorporate the cultural characteristics.
"The emergency tents needed to be reconfigured according to Haiti's villages, not in straight lines, as is too often the case," she said.
Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, said that for development to be sustainable it must be embedded in the cultural and social fabric.
He noted that in 1979, infant mortality in Bangladesh was as high as 252 per thousand, mostly due to diarrhea that is easily treatable with an oral rehydration solution.
Attempts to teach village women the importance of using this solution were initially disappointing. Later it was discovered the reluctance was due to men in the households not encouraging its use.
Following extensive work among men, infant mortality in Bangladesh now stands at fewer than 40 per thousand, the lowest rate in South Asia, demonstrating that if an intervention was not culturally appropriate it would not have worked.
According to Wiendu Nuryanti, Indonesia's vice-minister of education, 10 percent of the country's GDP now comes directly or indirectly from the creative industries.
She said the Borobodur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is exemplary in illustrating the importance of cultural heritage in Indonesia. Though in a majority Muslim area, it is the world's largest Buddhist temple and the local population is keenly aware of its importance to the local economy.
It attracts five million visitors a year, 90 percent of them domestic. One million jobs have been created directly or indirectly as a result of the temple.
"The diversity, durability and dynamism of these initiatives prove the viability of culture in development models. Their value must be recognized and supported by public policy at the highest level. Let's put culture on the world development agenda now," said Director-General Bokova.
The three-day event also brought guests from across the world a step closer to the unique cultures of the host city and China.
Hangzhou, which had been a significant cultural center in Chinese history, is an inspirational example of culture and development at their best.
It is a UNESCO Creative City for Crafts & Folk Art and home to the West Lake Cultural Landscape, a World Heritage Site. With its mist-covered hills, willow-lined banks and ancient pagodas, Hangzhou's idealized, classic landscapes were conceived in an effort to manifest the perfect fusion and harmony between human and nature.
Culture is at the vanguard of social and economic development in China, as is the case for an increasing number of countries worldwide.
"China, with its unique cultural heritage including 41 World Heritage sites understands this well," Bokova told the conference. "China is also acutely aware of the importance of its intangible cultural heritage - traditions, dances and songs, about 30 of them protected by UNESCO - ranging from wooden movable-type printing to Kunqu Opera," Bokova said.
She added that this heritage holds huge potential for development - it provides tools to support growth and create employment in areas such as tourism or the arts.
"UNESCO's Creative Cities Network, which includes Chengdu, Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou, bears witness to the potential of creative industries to support urban development by attracting the human talent that fuels innovation," she noted.
(China Daily 05/24/2013 page24)