The State Party provided a report to the World Heritage Centre on 23 January 2008. Concerning the points raised by the World Heritage Committee, the State Party report notes the following:
a) That it would welcome a study to establish a buffer zone, to be led by a Lao-French expert team;
b) That on the basis of the support provided by UNESCO to carry out a feasibility study to establish a biosphere reserve in the Nam Khan river watershed, it was willing to assure sustainable development to enhance the balance between the property and its region;
c) Concerning the need to improve risk preparedness measures for natural heritage, the State Party report notes that according to legislation, any infrastructure development project (including those major projects such as the currently planned Nam Theun 2) must be preceded by a feasibility study and a socio-environmental impact analysis;
d) The State Party notes that it is reinforcing the administrative and legislative base of the PSMV to improve possibilities for its rigorous application. To this end, the State Party notes a heritage law promulgated in 2005, and now being disseminated and applied at the national scale, PSMV awareness campaigns at national and local level, and significant successes in controlling building demolition, construction and restoration through co-operation among various local and national agencies. The report also admits that in certain instances, the regulations of the PSMV have not been observed;
e) Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s request for a coordination meeting of the funding agencies to coordinate the projects envisaged in the property and its periphery, to be held before the end of 2007, the State Party notes that it is amenable to the holding of such a meeting at a mutually agreeable time. The State Party also notes its satisfaction with the international co-operation agreement with the Government of France and in particular the Region Centre and the Ville de Chinon and its readiness to renew this 10 year old agreement.
The State Party report does not respond to a number of the requests of the World Heritage Committee, including the need for better definition of the mandate of the Maison du Patrimoine, the need for strengthening of local capacities and involvement, and the need for an evaluation of the quality of the development projects carried out since inscription, (especially in terms of densification and use of built fabric).
It is worth noting that while the State Party report comments on the French and Thai-built dam Nam Theun 2, planned for operation in late 2009, it does not mention plans for the foreseen Mekong mainstream dam at Luang Prabang, to be developed by the Petro Vietnam Power Corporation for opening in 2014.
By letter received by the World Heritage Centre on 28 March 2008, moreover, the State Party provided information on its decision to launch a revision of the urban plan of the district of Luang Prabang, to strengthen the Maison du patrimoine by recruiting some senior staff, and to reinforce the institutional coordination for safeguarding the property by appointing a ‘Special Adviser’ to the Vice-Prime Minister in charge of Luang Prabang.
The joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007) was undertaken from 22 to 28 November, 2007. The mission considered that the Town of Luang Prabang was at “a crucial stage in its development and that decision taken now will determine the safeguarding of the Town’s outstanding universal value or its progressive loss.” The report acknowledged that although much had been accomplished in the 12 years since inscription, at present, “unprecedented pressure from development is posing new strains on the site which the existing conservation system appears unable to counter effectively.” The report noted further that if “the Lao traditional heritage continues its steady decline, the Town of Luang Prabang would be heading toward a situation that would justify World Heritage in Danger Listing”.
The principal recommendations of the mission provide time bound targets for response and implementation by the State Party:
a) the need for a new Statement of outstanding universal value,
b) the establishment of a buffer zone (for which specific orientations were provided),
c) a moratorium on all major projects having an impact on the property’s outstanding universal value (including the new town in the Chompeth Valley, the airport extension and realignment, the conversion of the primary school and Fine Arts College for tourism, and the pedestrian / motorcycle bridge across the Nam Khan),
d) the revision of the Urban Plan (which should commence as a matter of urgency, be based on a new inventory and survey of changes that have occurred in the inscribed area since the establishment of the PSMV, and including a strategy for remediation of negative changes),
e) the strict enforcement of the PSMV with a fully developed annual reporting function for the benefit of the World Heritage Committee.
The report also includes a number of specific recommendations concerning improvement of the MDP’s mandate; the strengthening of local capacities and involvement of the community, control of illegal building activities; responses to particular development pressures, addressing the poor state of repair of religious structures on the right bank of the Mekong River, and finally giving consideration to the maintenance of the living heritage.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, while welcoming the steps taken by the State Party, consider that the mission report demonstrates the urgency of the situation, and the need for a well focused set of high priority actions to be undertaken by the State Party. In particular, the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS note that, in spite of the commitment of many devoted professionals and the Maison du Patrimoine, development within the property is not sufficiently under control, as shown by a number of projects in place which, if implemented, would seriously affect the outstanding universal value of the Town of Luang Prabang.