UNESCO World Heritage Ecosystem and Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda: Resilience through Intangible Cultural Heritage

With information campaigns and an inventory of the intangible cultural heritage on site, the site management strengthened the resilience of the National Park with funds from the German Commission for UNESCO.

The programme

The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.

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The Lopé-Okanda World Heritage Site is an unusual interface between dense and well-preserved tropical rainforest and savannah environments. It not only hosts a wide variety of habitats and species, including endangered large mammals, but also illustrates the ecological and biological adaptation processes of species and habitats to post-glacial climate change. Some 1.800 rock carvings bear witness to various peoples who left behind extensive and comparatively well-preserved settlement remains around mountain peaks, caves, and shelters. Neolithic and Iron Age sites reflect an important migration route of the Bantu and other peoples from West Africa along the Ogooué valley to the north of the dense, evergreen Congo forests and to the central east and southern Africa, which has shaped the development of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

Restrictions due to the pandemic

The appearance of the first case of COVID-19 in Gabon in March 2020 prompted the national authorities to take numerous protective measures. These measures have had numerous effects on the Lopé National Park and on the population living in and around the park. These include the closure of hotels and restaurants, a ban on visits, the reduction of local products on the markets and the suspension of all cultural activities.

The spread of the virus in the villages has also led to a significant reduction in agricultural activities, which lead to lower resilience for the coming year. The people of Lopé are receiving neither reliable information about the pandemic nor explanations for the measures taken by the government. As a result, much misinformation is being passed on, including about potential links between the virus and traditional knowledge and the healing promises of the latter.

Remedy through information, new sources of income and traditional knowledge

The project, funded by the German Commission for UNESCO, strengthened the resilience of the World Heritage site and thus improved the ability to cope with the pandemic. The national park administration created an inventory of the local intangible cultural heritage to secure and disseminate collective knowledge about the handling of previous epidemics. For this purpose, community members were interviewed about traditional healing methods and their experiences with previous epidemics such as Ebola. This collective knowledge was incorporated into an information campaign to educate the local population about the COVID-19-Pandemic and protective measures. To this end, terms used were translated and adapted into the local languages in order to facilitate understanding while avoiding stigmatisation. In complement to this, hygiene material was distributed. Moreover, the national park administration conducted various workshops directed at the local population with the objective of helping them find new activities to generate income.

The Consortium

On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the COVID-19-Pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.

The International Relief Fund

The project

  • Site: Ecosystem and Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda
  • Country: Gabon
  • Type of Site: UNESCO World Heritage (natural heritage)
  • Year of inscription: 2007


Website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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