nepal

Nepalese Cultural Sites in Peril as Calls for Relief Go Unanswered

For the past decade, Dharahara Tower has been where out-of-towners head for a bird’s eye view of Kathmandu. When they did so, they weren’t visiting the original 1832 structure but a version reconstructed after the 1934 earthquake.

Today the tower is once again a heap of rubble — along with much of the country — but it remains to be seen if it will be resurrected this time. As reported by The Art Newspaper, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has said the country needs about $2 billion for reconstruction and has expressed the hope that all buildings — homes, businesses, and historic sites — will be back up in two years. He has called on the international community for help, but the aid response has been poor.

According to the Gulf News, humanitarian agencies have been hard-pressed to find adequate funding for the Nepal relief effort. “The real problem is donor interest,” Richard Ragan, emergency cordinator for the UN’s World Food Program, told the newspaper. “The money we need is coming very slow.” As of the second week of May, the UN had only received $22 million of the $415 million it asked for.

That’s sure to affect efforts to rebuild the 750,000 houses affected — let alone the many ruined historic landmarks. Some 68 of them have been damaged, including seven Unesco World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. A preliminary report released April 27 found significant damage to the Changu Narayan and Sqayambhunath Hindu temples. The ancient Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur are also “almost fully destroyed.”

Christian Manhart, director of Unesco’s Kathmandu office, elaborated on this, explaining that half the temples in Patan Durbar Square have collapsed, and that 80% of the temples and historic structures in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur have been razed. “The walls on two wings of the former Royal Palace in Kathmandu, which is now a museum, have totally disintegrated from the corners and we have, as yet, not saved the objects inside,” he said. Two teams of structural engineers who examined the building have said it is now unsafe and needs to be demolished. “We have plans to remove the roof and use a crane to take the objects from top to bottom out of these wings and then to demolish the building.”

The destruction of these sites is not only a terrible heritage loss, but also one that affects the livelihood of future generations. While many tourists come to Nepal for the mountain climbing, they also visit places like the Dharahara Tower, and the money they pour into the country makes up 8.9% of the country’s gross domestic product and provides jobs for more than a million people. “This will have a medium and maybe even a long-term impact on tourism,” Manhart said.

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