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Heritage Groups Inventory Tsunami Damage to Cultural Sites

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 month’s 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 WMF.


While several important cultural sites could be destroyed (see list, bottom), not all the news is bad: "I’ve actually heard a lot of good news and many sites that weren’t 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. "It’s a matter of transferring information that’s 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."

James Murdock


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 been damaged.

  • 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.