Community people and authorities together for solutions to protect Swayambhu
Swayambhu, as most of the heritage sites around the world, is exposed to enormous threats, putting its value at risk. These threats include rapid urbanization, pollution, vandalism, looting, conflict, illicit trafficking and – above all – natural disasters, as the participants of the workshop “Improving Heritage Management and Disaster Risk Mitigation in Swayambhu” on 2 September 2013 in Kathmandu highlighted.
Swayambhu is together with six other monument zones part of Kathmandu Valley, which was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in 1979. During the last thirty-four years, the cultural heritage of the valley was always at risk, and several times even acutely in danger.
Disaster preparedness and management strategies are crucial for the protection of heritage sites. How these strategies could be better integrated into the heritage management system was discussed extensively by the 65 participants, including representatives from the community, local experts, site managers, and authorities during the workshop.
The proceedings started with presentations on different topics, informing about the present state of the Swayambhu monument zone. Participants from various stakeholder groups emphasized the issue of institutional coordination concerning heritage management, including factors related to human and nature-induced disasters which may put the site at risk.
Axel Plathe, UNESCO Representative to Nepal, said “The risk for Swayambhu, and other sites located on hillocks, like Changu Narayan, is linked to soil erosion and subsequent landslides that threaten its very foundation as much as earthquakes do. Therefore, risk management must become an integral part of conservation practices and management mechanisms”.
Participants expressed their wish for more information and knowledge exchange among the involved agencies and a better monitoring and effective implementation of existing legal mechanisms. Moreover, they raised the need to review the Swayambhu Master Plan, developed in 1989, in order to adapt it to the emerging challenges. Instead of only considering the physical development plan, living heritage should also be in the focus. Community representatives from the Federation of Swayambhu Management and Conservation brought attention to living traditions at risk due to the lack of resources, and expressed the need for involving the community in all activities. The discussion also highlighted the necessity for building local capacity at community level, in order to respond to disasters such as fire hazards. Furthermore, participants suggested establishing a disaster management unit within the federation, in order to coordinate with other institutional units operating at central level.
Several experts emphasized the necessity of detailed geo-technical investigation and regular monitoring of the site, including risks analysis, vulnerability assessment and site response analyses to prepare a disaster risk management plan. Additionally, it has been recommended to prepare a geological and fire hazard map which could be transformed into a conservation map, along with appropriate guidelines and regulatory mechanism for implementation. Besides, the preparation of an evacuation plan with proper dissemination, periodic drill and volunteer mobilization has been strongly suggested to better cope with possible earthquakes and fire hazards. Participants underlined that effective enforcement procedures and a well-functioning monitoring system are needed to reinforce the implementation aspect.
Laxman Aryal, Chief Executive of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office, highlighted the need for coordinative approach and involvement of local community in conservation initiatives. He concluded the workshop by stating that “today’s discussion has broadened the knowledge on management and risk mitigation of heritage sites which are useful in applying other heritage sites within Kathmandu and else”.
The Outcome of the workshop is a set of recommendations, to be integrated into the on-going review of an Integrated Management Plan in order to develop mechanisms to address disaster risk concerns for the heritage sites.
The workshop was jointly organized by the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and the Department of Archaeology, with funding support of the Oriental Cultural Heritage Sites Protection Alliance.
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