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Man, nature threaten Asia’s cultural landmarks, experts

August 15, 2005

By Chawadee Nualkhair

BANGKOK (Reuters) – From India’s Taj Mahal to Cambodia’s
Angkor Wat, Asia’s cultural landmarks are threatened by man and
nature and more must be done to protect them, experts said on
Monday.

Earthquakes, floods, civil strife and looting loom large as
potential threats, while the more mundane ravages wreaked by
tourists could turn ancient attractions into victims of their
own popularity.

“The greatest threat is actually people like ourselves who
do not have much appreciation for cultural heritage and often
go overboard to try to get income from tourism,” Suvit Yodmani,
executive director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center,
told Reuters.

Museum curators, architects and academics from eight Asian
nations are meeting in Bangkok for the next two weeks to learn
new ways to protect their cultural heritage back home.

They will study how to draw up complicated contingency
plans and learn more simple solutions like using catgut to
secure museum displays in quake-prone areas such as Turkey.

The impact of increasing tourism, the motor for many
developing economies including Cambodia, which lures thousands
of tourists a year to its Angkor Wat temples, would also be
debated.

“Asia is the highest natural and man-made disaster zone on
earth,” said Earl Kessler, the Center’s deputy executive
director.

Delegates from Japan to Sri Lanka will draw up their own
disaster management plans upon returning to their home
countries. In eight months, the group will gather again to
review their efforts.

“This is a management issue. It’s not a pro-forma recipe
for security,” said Kessler.

Organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, the
International Center for the Study of the Preservation and
Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the International
Council of Museums (ICOM), the training course comes at a time
of increasing focus on security for cultural artifacts.

Rioters looted the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad in April
2003, stealing an estimated 10,000 items from museum displays,
according to ICOM secretary general John Zvereff.

Roughly 5-6,000 of those items have been recovered, helped
by the sharing of information and documentation of stolen
items.

While disaster plans naturally concentrate on saving lives
and repairing damaged property, the preservation of culturally
important sites and artifacts also plays a role in
rehabilitating communities hit hard by disaster.

“Obviously there are very important priorities following a
disaster to do with the saving of human lives,” said ICCROM
director-general Nicholas Stanley-Price.

“Culture plays an important role in that recovery process.”




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