The draft guideline to improve resilience of cultural heritage sites in Bhutan highlights pre-disaster activities such as risk identification, preparedness, maintenance and culturally incorporated recovery and response activities.

The guidelines were presented at the end of a four-day workshop in Thimphu Wednesday. The workshop was held to develop guidelines specifying the responsibilities of the stakeholders to manage heritage sites before and after disaster. 

 “Past experiences have shown that the loss of movable heritage properties have been further aggravated with unprepared and unplanned post-disaster responses,” a press release from the Department of Culture (DoC) stated.

Architect at DoC, Jamyang Singye Namgyel, said that the dzongkhag and gewog disaster management committees would carry out assessments to identify disaster risks to heritage sites within the dzongkhags. “The committee will assess any risks of disasters such as landslides, windstorm, or risk from electrical wires.”

Along with the assessment of heritage sites, regular monitoring, preparation of inventories, and educational programmes will also be part of a pre-disaster activity. 

To further strengthen preparedness, mock drills, and awareness on the relics (nangtens)in a cultural heritage site, site plan to understand the layout of structures, evacuation plan, safe storage areas and important components will be identified. 

Chief architect Nagtsho Dorji said that DoC would develop a risk mitigation plan, which will provide culturally appropriate disaster resilient features for the site based on the hazards identified. 

She said that during a disaster, stakeholders connected with heritage sites should ensure that immediate response activities safeguard cultural heritage to the extent feasible. “What came up strongly is the roles of DeSuungs and therefore DoC would like to provide trainings on the importance of cultural heritage sites. For immediate response, a standard operating procedure needs to be put in place as well.”

The guideline also highlights the importance of incorporating cultural preservation and disaster resilience in the recovery processes. 

Disaster risk management specialist, James P Newman, said it is important for first responders to know the cultural heritage sites to understand the current activities and the requirements of the site and the community. “In the recovery process, it is important to have cultural preservation aspects in mind to understand exactly how disaster resilience measures can be put in place.”

Following discussions, the draft guideline will be submitted to the National Disaster Management Authority for endorsement. 

Supported by World Bank Disaster Risk Management  Hub in Tokyo, the workshop was organised by DoC. 

Phurpa Lhamo