By Sebastian Smith
NEW YORK, May 3, 2012 (AFP) – Asiaâ€™s architectural treasures, from a Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan to an ancient city in China, are in danger of vanishing under a tide of economic expansion, war and tourism, experts said Thursday.
The Global Heritage Fund named 10 sites facing â€œirreparable loss and destruction.â€
â€œThese 10 sites represent merely a fragment of the endangered treasures across Asia and the rest of the developing world,â€ Jeff Morgan, executive director of the fund, said, presenting the report, â€œAsiaâ€™s Heritage in Peril: Saving Our Vanishing Heritage.â€
The architectural gems from Asiaâ€™s ancient and sophisticated cultures are struggling in the face of economic expansion, sudden floods of tourists, poor technical resources, and areas blighted by looting and conflictâ€”in other words, the pressures of rapidly modernizing Asia.
â€œWeâ€™re looking at these millennial civilizations leapfrogging into the 21st century at a kind of pace that is unheard of, unprecedented,â€ said Vishakha N. Desai, president of the Asia Society, which hosted a conference based on the report.
Kuanghan Li, head of Global Heritage Fundâ€™s China program, underlined the urgency in a presentation on work to preserve Pingyao, one of Chinaâ€™s last surviving walled cities. The stunning fortifications are impressively maintained and floodlit.
But â€œup to 20 years ago, there were hundreds of similar walled cities left in China,â€ she said. â€œThey have been demolished.â€
Experts said that global architectural preservation efforts are poorly coordinated and targeted, with the UN cultural body UNESCO focusing almost entirely on sites in already wealthy European countries, rather than in places like Latin America or Asia.
More than 80 percent of UNESCO World Heritage sites are located in the 10 richest states, the Global Heritage Fund said.
Elsewhere, â€œheritage is being dramatically undervalued,â€ Morgan said, warning that the endangered sites were doomed without quick help. â€œWeâ€™re going to lose them on our watch in the next 10 years.â€
Shirley Young, head of the US-China Cultural Institute, said the importance of such work goes beyond being â€œjust about beautiful buildings, beautiful sites.â€
â€œI think weâ€™d agree,â€ she said, â€œthat a world without history is a world without soul.â€
Still, experts highlighted stories of inspiring success stories.
John Sanday, a specialist who has spent years trying to bring Angkor and other Cambodian sites back from the brink of collapse, showed dramatic before-and-after photographs of majestic temples that he first encountered two decades ago.
â€œThe trees had literally just taken over and strangling the building, pulling it apart,â€ he said, pointing to ruins that had been made structurally sound once again â€“ although now under threat from tourism.
â€œWe really hope with a concerted effort we can save these places,â€ Morgan said.
The top 10 endangered sites in Asia, according to the Global Heritage Fund, are:
- Ayutthaya in Thailand, a former Siamese capital known as the â€œVenice of the East.â€
- Fort Santiago in the Philippines.
- Kashgar, one of the last preserved Silk Road cities in China.
- Mahasthangarh, one of South Asiaâ€™s earliest archeological sites in Bangladesh.
- Mes Aynak, an Afghan Buddhist monastery complex on the Silk Road.
- Myauk-U, capital of the first Arakenese kingdom in Myanmar.
- Plain of Jars, a mysterious megalithic site in Laos.
- Preah Vihear, a Khmer architectural masterpiece in Cambodia.
- Rakhigari, one of the biggest, ancient Indus sites in India.
- Taxila, an ancient economic crossroads in Pakistan.