Monsoon season for policy, research and planning
The earthquake response with respect to cultural heritage has been strategically segregated into phases. The first phase of two months was exclusively reserved for earthquake response which involved preparing the affected cultural heritage for the oncoming rains.
The artefacts and collapsed remains of historic structures needed to be salvaged and safeguarded. Damaged structures needed to be propped and protected from the weather.
This was followed by the present monsoon season when the rains do not allow for much construction work to be carried out.
The efforts of the response phase are being monitored especially in respect to the effects of the rains on damaged monuments. Other than such emergency works, the second phase which stretches through three months of the rainy season focuses on preparing for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The overall planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction seems to have focused mainly around
The Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) has provided us with the needs in monitory terms in exact figures as being Rs 20,553 million. Monuments and historic sites are being distributed to those who are pledging funds. There still, however, seems to be only limited understanding of what needs to be done and how it will be implemented.
Work is being carried out as funds trickle in. Thankfully not much work has begun and in some of the sites where reconstruction was rushed, complaints have already arisen that improper methods were used. There is an immediate necessity for the preparation of policies and guidelines for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The component of the draft ‘Post Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Policy’ that deals with cultural
heritage has been reformulated by a team from the Earthquake Response Coordination Office (ERCO) and is in the process of being submitted to the concerned authorities.
Reconstruction guidelines for cultural heritage are being formulated in line with the policy and a draft will be ready by next week. Some critical issues will be clarified here, such as the question of appropriate materials and building technology considering authenticity while improving strength.
The guidelines will also look at sites, monuments and historic buildings over time and introduce provisions for maintenance and renewal.
Several of the more complex cultural sites and historic settlements will require specific Reconstruction Master Plans. These will be prepared for sites like Hanuman Dhoka, Swayambhu, Changu Narayan as well as Nuwakot and Sankhu. The Reconstruction Master Plan will also help clarify the multitude of involved donors, managers, supervisors and the communities. It will also define how and over what time period the reconstruction will realistically be carried out.
Research is required to better understand the complexity of these sites in historical as well as technical terms. Detailed structural and material research of the damage for example on the Swayambhu Mahachaitya and the Hanuman Dhoka palace will help save most of the original structure.
Urban archaeology will investigate the foundation of collapsed temples and cross-sections of the Durbar Squares to better understand the chronology of these sites.
There seems to be a hurry to reconstruct some monuments such as Dharahara and Kasthamandap which have been highly politicised. There is, however, no clear understanding of what this requires, whether in respect to design, expertise or crafts-persons. Implementation will require artisans and appropriate materials, without which none of the planning can be implemented.
The approach towards the reconstruction of dwellings is still not clear. The impatience of the community and individual house owners is understandable since they need to rebuild their houses as soon as possible. If the guidelines and processes for the reconstruction of historic urban fabric and dwellings are not clarified soon, it will surely be too late.
Local efforts with the best of intentions will lead to the loss of identity of these settlements, creating commercialised pseudo-traditional developments.
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org)