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Putting theory into practice

  Safeguarding heritage is essential for post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation of distraught communities

KAI WEISE

LALITPUR: On January 28, a consultative meeting was held in the Zero Energy House of the Institute of Engineering on ‘Disaster Risk Management for the

Historic City of Patan’. This was the closing of a three-year research project carried out between Ritsumeikan University of Japan and Tribhuvan University of Nepal. The structural stability of traditional buildings was studied and simple improvements were assessed. Risk mitigation strategies were developed based on detailed surveys carried out in Jhatapol on the edge of the world

heritage area of Patan Durbar Square monument zone. In close collaboration, the two institutions were able to carry out an impressive degree of research, which improved the understanding of vulnerabilities of historic urban areas within the Kathmandu valley to earthquakes.

The project also proposed some specific interventions to improve safety and prepare for the event

of a major earthquake. Interventions would need to be prioritised based on saving human lives and safeguarding historic elements that are of greatest value. These included appropriate strengthening of various historic buildings to function as com-munity shelters. The traditional water supply system could be restored and improved and would also be sufficient for fire fighting. The emergency escape routes from the courtyards through passages and narrow streets need to be strengthened and secured using materials appropriate for the historic context.

The commendable achievement of the project to research this complex urban context can, however, only bear fruit through practical utilisation of the results and recommendations. The proposed interventions need to be implemented as pilot projects and examples for the authorities and communities to assess. The solutions must be effective and acceptable to the community, and appropriate for the historic context. The understanding derived from the study carried out in the limited area of Jhatapol must be extrapolated to all the historic urban areas within the Kathmandu valley.

A system is required for assessment and adaptation of interventions for replication in other areas of the valley.The consultative meeting was attended not only by the researchers of the two universities, but represent-atives of international agencies involved in disaster risk management such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and World Bank. There was also strong participation from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Coordinative Working Committee (CWC), comprising of the

Department of Archaeology, the three municipalities and the site managers of the seven monument zones.

The CWC was established through the Integrated Management Framework document that was adopted by Cabinet in 2007. The Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Integrated Management Plan is required to be reviewed and amended every five years. In this process, disaster risk management will be one of the major issues that the CWC will be focusing on. The results of the research carried out by the universities will be used to formulate management processes to establish frameworks for disaster risk management for the world heritage areas.

Discussions have also been in-itiated with the international agencies involved in disaster risk management such as UNDP, to include heritage conservation into their programmes. This can, however, only materialise with the close collaboration and support from the national authorities such as the Ministry of Urban Development. This would be an ideal task for the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority to cooperate with the world heritage managers to fulfil their obligations to the world heritage convention while enhancing the safety of the inhabitants of the historic urban areas within the Kathmandu valley. Safeguarding heritage is essential for post-disaster reconstruction and rehab-

ilitation of distraught communities.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through paharnepal@hotmail.com)

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