Sluggish reconstruction likely to put Kathmandu heritage sites on UNESCO's danger list

5th Jul, 2017 | Tourism Mail Crew

KATHMANDU, July 5:  When the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal on April 25, 2015, one of the greatest concerns of those living across the world who had visited Nepal at least once, was for Nepal's centuries-old and rich architectural monuments.

[caption id="attachment_6762" align="alignnone" width="881"] Changunarayan Temple, a world heritage site in Bhaktapur awaits reconstruction after the deadly quake of 2015. Photo: Binod Prasad Adhikari[/caption]

The quake shattered numerous, highly revered and marvelous art creations, which were the major attractions for foreign tourists visiting Kathmandu valley and one of the major sources of tourism revenue.

Two years have been passed since the disaster in the Himalayan country, which killed nearly 9,000 people and displaced more than half a million citizens, and the country's development has been pushed back by at least half a decade.

With the commitment of financial assistance of more than 4.4 billion U.S. dollars by the international community for country's reconstruction, many had expressed hope that those flattened architectural wonders would stand tall and intact again soon.

But on the contrary, the first monuments enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are likely to be recategorized on the the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Christian Manhart, the country director for UNESCO Nepal, told Xinhua recently that "the listing as World Heritage in Danger is no criticism of the government, but a useful tool to raise awareness of the specific problems of a site and to obtain more international funding."

There are seven monument zones in Kathmandu valley inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979, and all the heritage sites were extensively damaged by the earthquake.

The possibility of being placed on the danger list comes following the assessment of damage and the state of conservation of all seven monument zones by the World Heritage Center and its Advisory Bodies Reactive Monitoring mission in March.

The team had acknowledged that the government of Nepal has done a great deal to rescue important artifacts, to provide capacity building for site managers, artisans, local professionals and local community members, in an effort to improve the protection and repair of the monuments.

However, the mission concluded that although post-earthquake conservation guidelines have been prepared, no recovery plans have been developed, in consultation with local community stakeholders, to guide the work in each monument zone, as recommended by the previous Reactive Monitoring mission 2016.

"The work undertaken so far has not been based on a systematic approach to documenting, assessing and mapping the extent of damage, which varied greatly across the seven monument zones, nor has a centralized database of information been established," the report stated.

The mission has recommended the World Heritage Committee to put the Kathmandu Valley property on the List of World Heritage in Danger considering that there is an urgent need for the development of a coherent and coordinated Recovery Plan and improvements in planning and coordination.

The final decision will be made by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session being held in Poland from July 2.

A three-member delegation from the Department of Archaeology, the authoritative body which has undertaken the responsibility of reconstruction of the heritage sites, is also participating in the session.

"Reconstruction of the monuments is moving forward in all the 14 worst-hit districts including those of Kathmandu valley. Though the final decision of the World Heritage Committee will be out in few days, we are unwilling to see our heritage sites on the danger list," Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson for the Department of Archaeology, told Xinhua on Monday.

According to UNESCO, placing the World Heritage property of the Kathmandu Valley on the danger list will lead to the utilization of the resources available from the international community and will work as a mechanism to protect the invaluable heritage of the site before it is too late.

The UNESCO mission had recommended placing the heritages on the danger list in 2016 too, but it could not be materialized following intense lobbying from the government.

The heritage sites of Kathmandu valley were on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003 as well, however, it was removed from the list in 2007 following the proper management of the properties as per the recommendations made by UNESCO.

These heritage sites have been attracting thousands of visitors from around the globe annually and helping generate a lucrative income for this least developed South Asian country.

According to Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), more than 76,000 tourists had visited the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square alone in the first six months of the current fiscal year, with the revenue generated totaling more than 71 million rupees (684,390 U.S. dollars).

"If the heritage sites are listed on the danger list, it will help to make the state and concerned agencies more responsible towards the preservation of monuments. I am confident that the step will not impede the regular flow of tourists," Deepak Raj Joshi, Chief Executive Officer of the Nepal Tourism Board, told Xinhua.