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Community / Land projects / Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal's Western Terai in the Face of Accelerated Development (HN)

Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal's Western Terai in the Face of Accelerated Development (HN)


11/16 - 11/16


This project is part of

Pilgrimage is the fastest growing motivation for travel with an estimated 600 million 'spiritual voyages' undertaken each year and Asia Development Bank (ADB) predicts that Buddhist pilgrimage to South Asia will reach an annual figure of 22 million by 2020 from four million. It has also estimated that pilgrim numbers visiting Lumbini in Nepal's western Terai, the birthplace of Buddha, will expand from 800,000 to five million by 2020. Aware of economic benefits offered by enhancing Buddhist pilgrimage circuits and the potential to alleviate acute poverty within the Terai, ADB has invested millions of dollars in a 'Tourism Infrastructure Development Project'. On account of the presence of Lumbini, ADB investment in the Terai has included all-weather roads between the light aircraft landing strip at Bhairahawa and Lumbini as well as 100 million dollars upgrading Bhairahawa to the status of an international airport with a 3000 metre long runway. Whilst highway investment has improved journey times for farmers taking produce to market, its presence close to the Indian border has attracted industrial investment in the form of 25 cement and noodle factories near Lumbini. In addition to polluting ground water, recent studies by IUCN have identified that monuments at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lumbini have been damaged by airborne pollution. Speculative land acquisitions along roads and close to heritage sites have driven up land prices in some areas whilst proposed heritage buffer zones in others are inadvertently preventing sales. The latter has also prevented residents from raising of funds for emergencies and education through mortgages. In spite of this rapid development, many archaeological sites are still to be mapped and protected and a survey by UNESCO and Tokyo University has suggested that 97 of 136 known sites in Kapilbastu District have been damaged by the expansion of cultivation and settlement, both driven by accelerated development. UNESCO surveys have also identified that some of the Terai's communities have weak, if any, social or economic ties to the Buddhist pilgrimage sites where much of the investment is focused. This is particularly true of the sizable Muslim community, running the risk of alienation. Additionally, UNESCO surveys have found that the majority of international Buddhist pilgrims at Lumbini are day visitors, coming across the border to visit sites before returning to India. The also survey identified that their spend within Nepal is minimal as packed lunches, vehicles and even guides are not Nepali. Whilst individually noted, these disparate challenges and opportunities have not been collectively discussed and evaluated by residents, stakeholders and policy makers. In view of this dynamic situation, UNESCO and the Governments of Japan and Nepal launched the 'Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha Project' to protect, conserve and manage key archaeological sites before sites were irreversibly adversely affected. Focused on Lumbini in Phase I (2011-2014) and Tilauarakot (identified by many as the Buddha's childhood home) in Phase II (2014-2017), the team of Durham University archaeologists and planners from the project team now recognise the need to promote the development of an agreed multidisciplinary and collaborative approach for the protection and preservation of heritage sites and the evaluation of the positive and negative social and economic impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage at them. By expanding the partnerships between Durham's UNESCO Chair and the project team to interface with managers, residents, pilgrims and stakeholders, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist, we seek to reduce the destruction and irreversible modification of heritage sites and identify and promote benefits, and reduce negative impacts of pilgrimage through the development and dissemination of pilot toolkits and methodologies.