Thursday, 10 July 2014

Safeguarding Myanmar's World Heritage Sites

With the three ancient Pyu cities recently listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites, the whole world is suddenly laying eyes on Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra. Eleven Media talks to the Deputy Culture Minister, Sandar Khin, on the government’s policy on the upkeep of the three World Heritage sites.

Q: Any conservation projects to be carried out for the three ancient Pyu cities?

A: We’ve drafted a management programme for the upkeep of the Beikthano, Sri Ksetra, and Halin, the three ancient Pyu cities that have recently been listed as World Heritage sites. Officials from the heritage conservation sector and professors and experts from outstanding universities have drafted a conservation master plan. The plan includes the activities we have to carry out with the experts’ advice. The plan covers what we had to do before the cities were added to the list and what to do afterwards within 2015 and 2016. Unesco is quite worried about the installation of tourist facilities in the future to cope given the increased tourist traffic. Facilities like toilets are an unpleasant sight if built. Also, the roads must not be bumpy to minimize vibrations from the passing vehicles. They must be dirt or asphalt roads. Since the roads are already dirt roads, we will carry out the rest of the activities.

Q: What’s the plan for safeguarding the World Heritage sites?

A: We plan to carry out a programme in 2015 to prevent the harmful effects of natural disasters and other causes thanks to the financial support from Unesco and the Italian government. A Unesco team will handle this project. In 2015, an international expert will be hired and called in to devise a management scheme for using the donated funds for the purpose of managing natural disasters and tourist facilities. The Ministry cannot do this alone. We will cooperate with local authorities including the Settlement and Land Records Department and local municipalities. We must keep the promises we have made to [Unesco].

Q: Has any World Heritage committee been formed to deal specifically with the three Pyu cities?

A: Quite a number of committees have been established. There’s also the Pyu Cultural Heritage Cooperation Commission. I’m serving as chairman of this commission. Besides the local organisations, representatives of district peace and development councils are also on this commission. A separate committee has been set up in each ancient city. Chairmen of the district peace and development councils chair these committees. As heads of the local councils, they know how to deal with government bodies and policies together with local residents.

Q: Any more World Heritage nominations in the pipeline?

A: As we don’t have any experience with this and we are only starting to do this, we are not ready to nominate all the sites. It’d be too complicated to submit another nomination. Given the level of responsibility for the upkeep of the three ancient cities, it’s already tiring. There’s a lot for us to do. All of our staff have been working so hard to achieve their goals.

Q: How hard was the World Heritage nomination process?

A: There were four stages for submitting a proposal to the World Heritage Centre. In the first stage, it turned out our proposal didn’t match the criteria. The second stage involved the rewriting of the proposal from the start because the proposal didn’t include any World Heritage site management plan. Another stage was a year-long review of the proposal to see if any required information was missing. In the last stage, the proposal was approved with great satisfaction. We were told to wait another three or four years as Myanmar needed to fulfil 11 provisions. I have to admit that we had some weaknesses, but we had already included some of the provisions under the management programme. They weren’t familiar with the Pyu cities. We had to point out the mistakes they had made.

Q: Any conservation project planned for Bagan?

A: Training programmes for World Heritage conservation are currently underway in Bagan. Attention is being focused on producing a list of historical and heritage objects and preserving the murals of various monasteries. More training like this will be conducted consecutively. The US$1 million grant from the Italian government covers not only the activities in the three Pyu cities but also the training scheme in Bagan. We will hold these training sessions every month.

Q: Can you explain how foreign countries are contributing to conservation efforts at the World Heritage sites and other ancient cities in Myanmar like the Pyu cites?

A: India has been helping with Ananda Temple in Bagan. Korea, Switzerland and Japan will also provide assistance in a number of projects. They have been holding workshops and short courses. They, for example, invited us to attend training programmes in their countries. It’s not only for Bagan. We’ve exploited the latest technologies developed for the preservation and excavation of all the heritage sites in Myanmar. The benefits of foreign aid include better knowledge and skills for our own staff and Myanmar’s closer ties with the donor countries.

source: Eleven Myanmar
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