UNESCO says safety concerns must be priority

KATHMANDU: The UNESCO office in Kathmandu has appealed to the general public to be extra cautious and reconsider the necessity of visiting the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage sites, saying that many of the monuments in these sites are still in a precarious state.

UNESCO’s safety concerns come after the government authorities reopened the three monument zones of Hanumandhoka (Kathmandu) Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square for tourists and the general public yesterday. Authorities are also preparing to reopen Swoyambhunath in Kathmandu and Changunarayan in Bhaktapur.

The monument sites were closed following the April 25 earthquake as they suffered heavy damage to the structures.

Hoping that the decision of reopening can be re-examined, the UNESCO has requested the Department of Tourism and the Department of Archaeology to carefully plan the reopening process, prioritising safety and security.

“In sites like Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pashupati and Boudhanath, which are already accessible, there is an urgent need to secure perimeters around the damaged structures and restrict access to locations where structures have collapsed,” a statement issued by the UN body said.

According to the assessment by UNESCO, the Patan Museum is unsafe and setting up perimeters around several damaged temples and limiting access to Patan Durbar Square is recommended.

“As Boudhanath has suffered damage only to the upper part of the Mahachaitya and two small stupas to the east and north corner of the main stupa, access to the site is considered safe. It is suggested that the upper platforms remain closed,” UNESCO has recommended.

“Swoyambhu and Changunarayan, both with landslide risks, are recommended to remain closed until proper assessments are carried out. In addition, the process of salvaging the artifacts is still ongoing in Swoyambhu, and UNESCO believes that opening the area presents a risk of theft of art and cultural objects,” it added.

For Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, UNESCO has said access to the collapsed temples and platforms must be forbidden as people climbing on them weaken the structures.

Security perimeters around the collapsed and damaged temples are essential and extra precautions are needed if movements are to be allowed on the pathway between Basantapur plaza and Durbar Square, it said, adding, all the parts of collapsed historic monuments and other artifacts needs to salvaged, sorted and stored away in an appropriate manner before the remaining debris is removed from the heritage sites.

Bhesh Narayan Dahal, Director General, Department of Archaeology, said, “The DoA has been assessing the vulnerabilities of the sites and significant monuments, and the sites will be opened for visitors on priority basis, while a long-term plan will be introduced to reconstruct the fallen monuments.”

To ensure the safety of visitors, the security perimeters around the collapsed and vulnerable monuments will be set up in coordination with the Department of Tourism before opening the sites, he added.

UNESCO said it is committed to supporting the DoA in devising procedures to secure the heritage sites, ensuring proper treatment of artifacts and devising plans for limited access to the heritage sites after studying each case individually.