January 7, 2005
Officials with preservation and world
heritage groups are beginning to take stock of cultural sites
in Southeast Asia and western Africa damaged or destroyed
by last months tsunami. One organization, the World
Monuments Fund (WMF), which provides financial assistance
to preserve cultural sites worldwide, is attempting to contact
its project managers throughout the affected region: first
to determine if they are alive, then to determine the fate
of their projects.
"The human element is our first priority, of course,
but in connection with that is the built environment that
these people enjoyed--institutions and monuments. That heritage
is something to be looked at soon after the human element,"
says John Stubbs, vice president of field programs with the
While several important cultural sites could be destroyed
(see list, bottom), not all the news is bad: "Ive
actually heard a lot of good news and many sites that werent
damaged," says WMF program manager Michelle Berenfeld.
Among the undamaged WMF projects is Omo Hada, an 18th century
colonial house on the Indonesian island of Nias, Berenfeld
said. A WMF site in Malacca, Malaysia, is also undamaged.
Berenfeld has also received word from colleagues at Goa University,
in India, that the Sun Temple of Koranak, a 13th century temple
on the Bay of Bengal in India, sustained only minor damage
from the tsunami.
As the WMF and other cultural groups like UNESCO (United
Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization) begin
inventorying sites throughout the disaster area, they are
also turning their attention to the rebuilding effort. Stubbs
says that the WMF can act as a clearinghouse for information,
helping to connect cultural ministries in southeast Asian
nations with governments elsewhere that have experience rebuilding
after natural disasters and warfare.
"Sadly, WMF has become quite expert in dealing with
post-disaster scenarios like the Balkans, Iraq and Iran,"
Stubbs observes. "Its a matter of transferring
information thats already been developed in one part
of the world to another part of the world."
Stubbs adds that, on a project by project basis in the tsunami
disaster area, the WMF will address issue of "preventative
conservation" to fortify surviving cultural sites against
damage from future natural disasters. "History tells
us what to do with these sites."
According to the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization, the following
World Heritage sites are located in areas affected
by the tsunami:
- The Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
in Sri Lanka: the town has been flooded and
preliminary reports indicate that there has
been important damage, notably affecting underwater
heritage in the ancient harbour. The Fort itself
has been reported intact.
- The Ujung Kulon National Park and Tropical
Rainforest of Sumatra, both in Indonesia: preliminary
information indicates that conservation structures
in the National Park of Gunung Leuser, part
of the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra, have
- The Indian sites of Mahabalipuram and the
Sun Temples of Konarak, also located in the
affected zones, have not suffered any substantial
damage, according to the Indian national authorities.