Kathmandu Valley is not danger listed again

It took us a record four years to redefine the boundaries, create buffer zones and establish an exemplary management system


The World Heritage Committee met for their 40th session in Istanbul last week to discuss the faith of numerous nominations and assess the state of conservation reports. The nerve-wracking anticipation of getting on the World Heritage List or not getting on the Danger List was further heightened by the coup attempt on President Erdogan’s government. The World Heritage session continued and verdicts were announced with worldwide clamour.

In preparation to the meeting of the World Heritage Committee, the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Convention provide recommendations. The advisory body for cultural sites is International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) with Secretariat in Paris, France and for natural sites it is the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. The recommendations are compiled into draft decisions by the Secretariat to the convention, the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO. Being the apex decision making body, the World Heritage Committee does not need to follow the recommendations of the advisory bodies which allows for politicisation and lobbying.

For example the mixed natural and cultural property of ‘Khangchendzonga National Park’ in Sikkim was inscribed in line with the joint recommendations of the advisory bodies. On the other hand the ‘Excavated remains of Nalanda Mahavihara’ in Bihar was inscribed contrary to the recommendations of ICOMOS. When the draft decisions of the advisory body do not support inscription, the respective State Party can either withdraw the nomination or push through using political pressure. When the site is inscribed based on lobbying, they are usually not sufficiently prepared which often leads to future conflicts.

The provisions for inscribing World Heritage properties on a danger list was established as a positive means of prioritising resources to help sites that are facing particular hardships caused, for example, by natural or human-induced disasters. State Parties, however, usually see this as a blacklistingthat dents the national self-esteem.

The draft decisions for Kathmandu Valley, under ominous point 13 stated that based on “the ascertained threats to OUV caused by the immediate impacts of the 2015 earthquakes, decides, in conformity with Paragraphs 177 and 179 of the Operational Guidelines, to inscribe the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal) on the List of World Heritage in Danger”. After tense deliberations between committee members, as was the case in 2015, the Committee overturned the ICOMOS recommendations, postponing the decision of possible danger listing of Kathmandu Valley.

We have a year until the next World Heritage session and it might be better to start contemplating on what should be achieved. Last time Kathmandu Valley was danger listed, which was in 2003, it was after a decade of nasty wrangling over uncontrolled development and loss of historic urban fabric”. It took us a record four years to redefine the boundaries, create buffer zones and establish an exemplary management system to remove Kathmandu Valley from the danger list. Since then there has been continued progress in maintaining the Coordinative Working Committee functioning between the seven monument zones.

After a massive disaster it always takes time to regroup and re-establish required management structures and procedures for rehabilitation. It might be unfair to assess present conditions of governance and roles that Department of Archaeology, National Reconstruction Authority, local government bodies and UNESCO Kathmandu Office have taken on until now. In the coming year, they will, however, surely be assessed more strictly. The ICOMOS mission report and recommendations would be worth studying. Despite the fact that World Heritage Committee decisions can be influenced through lobbying, ground realities will remain testimony to what is being achieved in post-earthquake rehabilitation of cultural heritage in Nepal.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through paharnepal@hotmail.com)