Rebuilding heritage monuments will take years

KATHMANDU: The devastating earthquake on April 25, severely damaged historical and cultural monuments across the country. According to the Department of Archaeology (DoA), the massive earthquake has damaged 133 monuments fully, 95 partially collpased and 513 monuments partly damaged. Kathmandu valley renowned as the city of temples has lost 95 cultural heritage while 357 monuments are partially damaged.

UNESCO recognises the three Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan as World Heritage Zones. Experts stated that lack of timely maintenance and repairs were the main reason for such huge damage to these monuments.

According to the DoA, nine historical structures were totally destroyed while 26 structures are partially damaged in Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square. Temples like Char Narayan, Hari Shankar, Taleju and the two Manimandals  of Patan Durbar Square, Vatsala Temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square were completely destroyed among many others. While the Changu Narayan Temple has been given external support, and satals around the temple has been totally damaged. The main dome of Swayambhunath has developed  cracks while shikara style temples like Shantipur, Pratappur, Kantipur and Karmaraja Mahabihar have collapsed. Reportedly, 80 per cent of all traditional style residential buildings were fully damaged in the Swayambhunath area. Boudhanath also has cracks on the dome, while a few temples in Pashupatinath were partially damaged. A total of 155 monastries were damaged across the country.

“The earthquake has destroyed many cultural and historically significant buildings, temples and monuments. The damage in the valley, in terms of structure, is severe including all seven World Heritage Zones,” said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, Director General of DoA. Citing that the relics inside these structures are safe and kept at various museums, he said, “We plan to respond and work in three different phases for reconstruction and maintenance — immediate, mid-term and long-term. For the first phase we have already started the documentation process and will bring in experts for other aspects of the plan.” According to him, the government will initiate the rebuilding as per the Procurement Act through a bidding process.

Dahal informed that they will conduct rebuilding and safeguarding of World Heritage Monuments as per the Venice Charter’s Article 10 using traditional artefacts. “As per our analysis, restoration of heritage both partially and fully damaged would require up to Rs 10 billion and can be completed within five to seven years,” he asserted, adding that the release of the full budget should be on time.

Negligence in maintenance

There are clear indications that lack of restoration and maintenance of monuments elevated the extent of damage done by the earthquake. Stakeholders pointed out that lack of proper and timely maintenance of monuments is the reason the country lost numerous historical and cultural heritage.

“The government purely neglected structural strengthening and retrofitting of these monuments. It only focused on occasional beautification of those century old structures,” said Rohit Ranjitkar, Director of Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust. Giving the example of the recently renovated and retrofitted Sundari Chowk, he said, “Not a single tile has fallen apart from Sundari Chowk on which updated techniques of retrofitting were applied. On the contrary, the Radha Krishna Temple at Swotha which was simply renovated in 1991 totally collapsed.”

He stressed the need for a detailed study of these structures and restoration with updated techniques to sustain and rebuild heritage monuments. According to him, the government should learn from the past and now work to strengthen

existing monuments.

Citing that there should be close collaboration between the government, donor agencies and other organisations, Ranjitkar said, “We are overwhelmed by the response from various countries and agencies to help restore these monuments. The government should have a proper plan to cash in on this opportunity and make use of professional available help while restoring these monuments.”

There is also the possibility of shortage of required construction material such as timber, traditional styled bricks and mud with workmanship to rebuild massive structures, he said, “The government should give national priority to restoration projects and manage all tasks efficiently.”

Agreeing with him, Structural Engineer Dr Prem Nath Maskey said, “While studying monuments which were destroyed, it was clear that the construction material were past its expiration date.” Citing that construction material have their own life span, he added, “We found that the Kasthamandap, Shiva and Visnu Temple along with the Royal Palace in Hanuman Dhoka were not repaired for years and the structures were weak with rotten wooden beams and walls.” Maskey opined that it is high time the government started to initiate heritage conservation tasks using earthquake resistant techniques to strengthen structures and discuss the most appropriate approach.

Challenges for restoration

The discussion over what technique should be adopted in the reconstruction of heritage sites is ongoing. Stakeholders are finding greater challenges to deal with partially damaged monuments. They are undecided about whether to retain the remaining structure or to demolish and rebuild them. “Reconstruction of fully demolished monuments will depend on documentation, its significance and available resources. In any case, we will need to plan the entire rehabilitation over a minimum period of six years,” said Kai Weise, Coordinator, Earthquake Response for Cultural Heritage, UNESCO Kathmandu Office.

Planning ahead

Citing that the most important consideration is the establishment of a coordination system, Weise said, “The rehabilitation of these monuments as well as traditional settlements will be a gigantic task involving lots of organisations and authorities. Coordination would need to ensure that there is no duplication, required expertise is sought or trained, materials are ensured and funds are made available on time and rigorously audited.” He further added that the government will also need to establish a clear set of guidelines to ensure that all involved parties work along similar lines. According to him, the Earthquake Response Coordination Office (ERCO) has already been set up at the Department of Archaeology in close collaboration with UNESCO.

Over 80 years later

Considering the fact that reconstruction of various structures that collapsed during the 1934 earthquake was still being planned even eight decades later, the current restoration process must be considered as a long term endeavour. “An initial six year period has been planned, which will probably allow for some of the most significant monuments to be rebuilt,” Weise informed, adding that during this period all residential buildings must be reconstructed.

Stating that the local community also plays a vital role in reconstruction, he said, “Many monuments will only be restored through cooperation from the local community and how they support and see through this restoration period matters.” According to him, a clear vision on the process, approach and extent of reconstruction is required before beginning reconstruction work after the monsoons.