Nepal | July 24, 2019

EDITORIAL: Onus on locals

Any restoration of monuments to their original grandeur costs money and the involvement of cultural and construction experts

It is unfortunate that the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has withdrawn its support for the reconstruction of two heritage temples at Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which were damaged by the 2015 earthquake. UNESCO’s support to rebuild the Jagannath and Gopinath temples that stand on the premises of Hanumandhoka has been withdrawn after the workers there were threatened by some locals. All along, some locals and conservationists have been decrying the involvement of international donors and agencies in the reconstruction of temples there, citing their reconstruction or restoration should be carried out without foreign aid. These are not the first temples whose restoration has been stalled on the premises. Last year, the Department of Archaeology annulled its decision to entrust Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with the restoration of the Agamche Temple at Hanumandhoka following the locals’ protest. UNESCO’s withdrawal from the reconstruction of the two temples sends a wrong message to the international community, especially after all the work plans that the UN agency had completed.

The powerful Gorkha Earthquake had destroyed hundreds of temples and monuments across the country, apart from residential buildings. It was, therefore, nigh impossible for the government to rebuild them all without taking recourse to funding from some foreign countries and the UN agency. Consequently, the U.S. government provided support in the restoration of the Gaddhi Baithank at Kathmandu Durbar Square while the Chinese are involved in restoring the massive nine-storey palace nearby. As for UNESCO, it has been involved in the restoration of archaeological artefacts not only in Kathmandu but outside as well for decades.

The locals may have reasons for wanting to carry out the restoration of religious buildings by themselves and not entrusting the responsibility to outsiders. With the growing cultural and ethnic revivalism taking place in the country in recent years, the Newar locals and stakeholders have been increasingly wanting to take community ownership of the heritage sites – and their restoration – through fund-raising and voluntary labour. They fear allowing the National Reconstruction Authority or some outside agency in the restoration of heritage sites will destroy their uniqueness as there are chances of them giving short shrift to indigenous methods and processes. But such clamour for community ownership should be matched by a fitting plan of action and not limited to rhetoric. Any restoration of monuments to their original grandeur costs money and the involvement of cultural and construction experts. The local community might be able to raise money for a temple or two but certainly not enough to restore all the monuments damaged at the World Heritage Site. Even the reconstruction of the Jagannath and Gopinath temples required the participation of at least three partners, with the Japanese government and Nepal Investment Bank providing the funding and UNESCO carrying out the work. Now that UNESCO has pulled out, the locals must see to it that the two temples are rebuilt as early as possible without any excuses.

Malaria in the hills

Due to increasing temperature and climate change, cases of malaria have been detected even in the hilly and mountainous regions in recent times. According to the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD), Teku, 143 cases of malaria were reported in Mugu, 60 in Bajura and 33 in Baitadi districts in 2017-18. However, no cases of malaria had been reported in Mugu in the previous years.

Rising temperature, humidity and rainfall are the major reasons behind malaria’s transmission in the hilly and mountainous areas. Division chief Bibek Kumar Lal says easy transportation facilities from the plains to the high altitude areas could have also played the role in spreading the disease in these areas, where such cases were rare in the past. Usually people who suffer from malaria in the Tarai are diagnosed with the disease when they reach the mountainous regions. So it is yet to be proved if the disease originated in the mountains. The government has set a target of reaching zero indigenous cases of malaria by 2025. A total of 1,187 cases of malaria were reported in Nepal in year 2017-18. Health-related awareness is the key to addressing this problem.


A version of this article appears in print on July 11, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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