Following the UNESCO fact-finding mission of December 2010, the State Party was informed of the examination of the state of conservation of the property.
In 2002, the possibility of constructing a new road through Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape was brought to the attention of the World Heritage Committee. This concern was noted by the World Heritage Committee at its 27th session (Paris, 2003), by requesting the State Party to “submit a detailed survey plan for the new north-south road to mitigate any negative impact this road could have on Zones 1, 2, 3, or 4, detailing the protective measures being undertaken or planned” (Decision 27 COM 7B.51).
In April 2010, after a long period of inactivity concerning the road construction, UNESCO received reports that the construction of Route 14A had commenced and would pass through Zone 1 and Zone 3 of the property. The State Party was duly notified by the World Heritage Centre that potential damage from the construction works was not in compliance with existing legislation and management provisions and could lead to threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, thus providing grounds for inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
To assess the emergency situation at the property, a UNESCO fact-finding mission was undertaken from 14 to 17 December 2010 at the request of the Ministry of Information and Culture, Lao PDR. According to the mission report, road construction plans provided by the State Party show that out of a total length of approximately 60 km, a 18-km section of Route 14A will be situated in Zone 1 of the property (Champasak Cultural Heritage and Cultural Landscape Protection Zone), from km 25 at Phaphin to km 43 at Ban Dontalat village. The road is designed with two lanes, together with associated turning lanes, bridges, drainage structures. From km 25 to 29, the works entail a widening of an existing road. From km 29 to 34, it consists of constructing a new road alignment including three bridges passing through existing paddy fields and nearby areas designated as Zone 3 (Archaeological Research Zone), notably the ancient city. From km 34 to 35, a bypass is designed around Ban Tang Kob Village. From km 35 to 41, the existing road will be upgraded and from km 42 to 43, a bypass will be constructed around Ban Dontalat Village. In addition, the project also includes proposals to upgrade the road running through Champasak town proper which passes through the Ancient City (designated Zone 3) by constructing sidewalks and associated drainage alignment.
Work on the road started in early 2010. After rapid construction in 2010, the road works had substantially progressed, with various sections in the World Heritage property advanced to various degrees of construction by January 2011. With the exception of an Initial Environmental Examination conductedin 2002andseven archaeological trenches excavated in October and November 2010 during which the road construction work was halted temporarily, no further in-depth heritage impact assessment had been conducted by the State Party.
At the request of the State Party, a quick impact assessment was undertaken by an expert mission fielded by UNESCO Bangkok in January-February 2011. The results of the assessment concluded that the construction and planned operation of the road based on its current design will have an irreversible impact on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. The road will impact on the cultural landscape and the buried archaeology and standing earthworks. The road alignment cuts through the cultural landscape and creates adverse visual and cultural impacts. Significant archaeological remains located in close proximity to parts of the road alignment have already been affected. The mitigation measures that have been proposed by the State Party, such as planting trees along the road alignment, were found to be inadequate or inappropriate. The expert mission made two sets of recommendations: first, mitigation actions for immediate implementation, and second, submission of modified design and alignment proposals for the new road and detailed mitigation plans. The immediate mitigation actions are as follows:
1. Suspension of all construction works from km 29 to 34 to allow time for preparation of a new Alignment Options Study in order to provide a design and locations not having impact on the Outstanding Universal Value. The options must take into account that a minimum of 100 metres will be required between the wall of the Ancient City and the new alignment;
2. Cancellation of the Ban Tang Kob Village bypass and use of the existing road through the village based on local access only.
In addition to Route 14A, other issues affecting the conservation of the property include the construction of a new site management office next to the site museum, an increase in building activity over the past ten years which has started to change the character of the property and is expected to be accelerated with the new road, and the non-functioning of the National Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee which is identified as a key coordinating body in the management plan. The State Party has made progress with restoration of the Vat Phou temple complex, with bilateral technical support from France, India and Italy. The capacity of the site management authorities has been strengthened with the upgrade into a department level. A new action plan for 2011-2016 is currently being prepared with support from UNESCO Bangkok which, if implemented properly, will help to address these longer-term conservation and management issues.
On 25 April 2011, the World Heritage Centre received information regarding a water supply project, to include 25 meter high water tanks, to be funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is understood that these are outside the property boundary but could impact visually the property and that no cultural heritage impact assessment has been carried out.