UNESCO pulls out of reconstruction project

Kathmandu, July 9

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has decided to withdraw its support for the reconstruction of two heritage temples on the premises of  Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which suffered damage in the 2015 earthquakes.

Issuing a press release today, the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu stated it had withdrawn its support for the restoration of Jagannath and Gopinath temples following threats issued by some locals to the on-site workers.

Christian Manhart, UNESCO representative to Nepal, in a statement said, “UNESCO is saddened to pull out of the restoration project.”

According to the UN agency, right from the time when the reconstruction work started in the year-2018, some locals were demanding that the reconstruction work of the temples should be carried out without foreign aid.

Following the locals’ obstruction, UNESCO arranged a series of meetings with local community members, the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation, Nepal Reconstruction Authority, Department of Archaeology and Member of Province 3 Provincial Assembly Rajesh Shakya and continued the reconstruction work till 15 May 2019, according to UNESCO. It said despite the talks some locals kept issuing threats to the workers. “UNESCO has, therefore, decided to withdraw all its support for the project,” read the press release.

UNESCO said it had completed damage assessment drawings, architectural documentation, structural analysis, archaeological research of foundations and detailed retrofitting designs of the temples with the help of a team of local conservation experts and in close consultation with the Department of Archaeology, ward officials, local communities and priests.

It further sated, “All documentation of the restoration work has been handed over to the care of the DoA for completion of the remaining work to meet the international standards required for World Heritage Sites.”

Director General of DoA Damodar Gautam  said, “Although it’s good for locals and stakeholders to take ownership of heritage sites, we cannot welcome the move of the locals of issuing threats to the workers after UNESCO started the construction work.”

Many local activists and conservationists told THT that they would accept financial and other support from international agencies, but

the responsibility of reconstructing religious buildings should be given to local people.

UNESCO was reconstructing the temple in coordination with the Department of Archaeology. Japanese government and Nepal Investment Bank Limited were  providing financial support for the reconstruction.

In September last year, the DoA had to cancel its plan to entrust Japan International Cooperation Agency with the responsibility to reconstruct Agamche temple at Hanumandhoka area following locals’ protest. The locals had said that they themselves had to build the temple to preserve its religious value.

Gaddhi Baithak, one of the major heritage buildings at Basantapur, has already been restored with the support of the US government and a historic nine-storey palace is being restored by China.