Recognising the vulnerability of heritage sites to disasters, the Department of Culture (DoC) in collaboration with relevant stakeholders will develop an operational guideline to manage heritage sites.

A four-day workshop with the objective to develop guidelines for pre-disaster monitoring and preparedness plan for heritage sites and post-disaster response mechanism for cultural heritage professionals for recovery and restoration began yesterday at Thimphu.

The guideline will identify roles and responsibilities of cultural heritage professionals during response and recovery events, and relevant tools to equip them to carry out their responsibilities. It will also have procedures to conduct post-disaster studies and assessments before the reconstruction and renovation of the site and immediate measures that can be implemented after disaster.

DoC’s chief architect, Nagtsho Dorji, said that although DoC did have responsibilities before a disaster such as documentation, without an operational guideline, DoC did not play a role after disasters that affected the heritage sites.

She said that the guideline would help recognise individual responsibilities during disaster. “From the Wangdue fire incident, we realised that our role is more pronounced. We need to be more prepared and know our functions. We should not wait for disasters to keep reminding us where we stand. We are reconstructing and renovating the heritage sites and we feel that we are losing the authenticity of the sites.”

According to information from DoC, physical loss of the structures, especially lhakhangs and dzongs was worth USD 13.5 million during the 2009 earthquake and USD 6.96 million during the 2011 earthquake. In 2012, Bhutan also witnessed fire that razed Wangduephodrang Dzong.

“The actual loss goes beyond the loss of physical structures and includes the loss of interior assets –nangtens,” the press release issued by DoC stated.

Before the workshop, DoC identified three case heritage sites – Talung village in Haa affected by earthquake in 2011, Wangduephodrang Dzong burnt in 2012, and Kabisa lhakhang in Punakha affected by windstorm.

During the four-day workshop, stakeholders at the workshop will visit one of the sites and meet personnel involved during the disaster to understand the real experience and functioning of the stakeholders during disaster.

The representatives at the workshop will also focus on understanding the current procedures and failures of the operational procedures during a disaster.

Nagtsho Dorji said that at the end of the workshop, a framework of the guideline would be presented. “We will have an outlined guideline, which will be further consolidated by experts. We are expecting to publish the guideline for reference and adoption by stakeholders before the end of this year.”

Experts from the Institute of Disaster Mitigation for Urban Cultural Heritage at Ritsumeikan University in Japan and experts from DoC will help develop the guideline.

Representatives from Royal Bhutan Police, DeSuungs, Royal Bhutan Army, Department of Disaster Management, Dratshang Lhentshog, and forest officials are attending the workshop.

The workshop will end on April 11.

Phurpa Lhamo