The flight from Kathmandu to Paro is one of those awe inspiring experiences, where one sees the beautiful scenery created through a violent geological process: the collision of two tectonic plates. This impressive landscape however, brings with it hazards such as earthquakes, landslides and flash floods. The experience does not end with the view of Gauri Shankar, Everest, Makalu and Kanchenzonga, for the landing in Paro is more exciting than a rollercoaster ride. The wings of the especially built Airbus 319 practically scrape past the trees on the precipitous hillside before banking steeply to the right to manage a tight turn in the valley. As it flies past Paro Dzong, the plane is still at an angle and only straightens out in the last minute as it touches down. Outside the cool clear air is refreshing.
People from 23 countries gathered in this small Himalayan kingdom for a conference on Disaster Management and Cultural Heritage. This was a response to an earthquake that had hit Eastern Bhutan on September 21, 2009. The earthquake had damaged 6,000 structures including Lakhangs (temples), Dzongs (fortresses), houses and government buildings and 12 lives were lost.
Studying the situation, no clear pattern of destruction could be identified and the af fect of the earthquake on the traditional buildings seemed rather random. Referring to old photographs it was clear that the cracks found in some buildings existed even before the earthquake. However, the people seemed to have lost confidence in the traditional structures and slept outside.
A dilemma arose on how to respond to the situation.There was a general opinion that these traditional structures should be demolished and rebuilt, possibly using concrete. For the government to recommend that the traditional structures were more appropriate required a better knowledge of the stability and general performance of the stone masonry and timber construction. Research was needed to understand these structures to give clear justification to the communities on the need to preserve their traditional buildings.
Understanding that this was the opportunity to prepare the country for larger disasters, a conference was organised to bring together experts from the fields of Disaster Risk Management and Heritage Conservation. But there are some inherent difficulties in finding a common language and developing a mutual respect between the two fields. Management systems of cultural heritage must include components dealing with disaster risk, and disaster risk management plans need to incorporate a response to dealing with cultural heritage.A somewhat fragile balance was found after the two days of intense deliberations.
The overall outcome as formulated in the Thimphu Document lays the foundations for a comprehensive approach to protect cultural heritage from disasters. This was the first time that a government committed itself to address this issue. Maybe this would be an example that many more countries could follow.
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through email@example.com)
source: The Himalayan Times ,Dec 20 2010
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