The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will use state-of-the-art space technology to help it conserve World Heritage sites, monitor biosphere reserves and mitigate natural hazards such as the recent Indian Ocean tsunami under a landmark agreement with the United States space agency.

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura signed the cooperation agreement with US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Deputy Administrator Frederick D. Gregory yesterday at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

UNESCO’s particular concern is to improve the access of Member States to the benefits of NASA’s expertise, remote sensing data and science research results, increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of conservation work.

It should also reinforce countries’ ability to mitigate the effects of natural hazards, a top priority in view of the recent tsunami disaster, in which experts believe an early warning system could have saved scores of thousands of the more than 200,000 lives lost.

In the field of education, cooperation with NASA will broaden the scope of UNESCO’s Space Education Programme and other activities aiming to raise interest in science.

The agreement, which expands the long-standing relationship between NASA and UNESCO, is the first comprehensive agreement between the two organizations and the first new science agreement with a US organization since the country returned to full membership of UNESCO in October 2003.

UNESCO has also established partnerships with other space agencies within the framework of its Open Initiative to use space technologies to support the World Heritage Convention and UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves. Initially launched with the European Space Agency (ESA), it currently includes the Argentinean and Canadian space agencies, and the Morocco Space Centre.

The Indian Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are in the process of finalizing cooperation agreements to join the Initiative, which also includes a number of other space research institutions and universities. The overall cooperation agreement between NASA and UNESCO adds an essential new partner to this Initiative.