State of Conservation (SOC)
Town of Luang Prabang
Information presented to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee
24th session of the WH Committee (Chapter IV.para.69).
- Weakness of legal framework and administrative capacity to manage urban development;
- Illegal demolition of listed and non-listed buildings and illegal construction of buildings not in conformity with the conservation plan (PSMV) in the World Heritage protected area;
- Consolidation of the riverbank along the NamKhan River with negative visual impact and possible structural risks;
- inadequate flow of information between the local and national authorities concerning conservation and development activities, lack of control in general;
In September 2000 a mission of a legal expert financed within the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement was carried out to provide legal assistance to the national and local authorities to revise the Decree of the Council of Ministers on the Protection of Monumental, Urban and Natural Heritage of Laos, and to draft the status of the Heritage House (Maison du patrimoine), the heritage advisory service attached to the provincial authorities of Luang Prabang.
This mission led to the elaboration of a draft "Decree on the nomination of a Committee to control construction and restoration activities in the City of Luang Prabang" (Décret sur la nomination du Comité d’attribution des permis de construire dans la ville de Luang Prabang) and the draft "Decree concerning the structure and activities of the Luang Prabang Heritage House" (Décret portant sur l’organisation et les activités de la Maison du Patrimoine). The Luang Prabang Heritage House subsequently transmitted to UNESCO the composition of the working group to finalize these decrees and for their integration in the national law to be enacted officially by the National Assembly of Laos. Despite repeated requests by the World Heritage Committee and its Bureau, as well as by the Secretariat for information on the progress, the State Party has not to date responded officially.
Moreover, the final version of the conservation plan of Luang Prabang (Plan de Sauvegarde et de Mise en Valeur - PSMV) transmitted to UNESCO/WHC in August 2001 by the Heritage House has not yet been officially approved by the competent national authorities.
The Secretariat, having received alarming information on illegal demolitions and constructions over the past year, sent an expert mission (Inspection-General of the Government of France) in February 2002 for an assessment of the situation. The mission noted that information on illegal demolition and construction had been regularly transmitted to the Ministry of Culture of Laos by the Luang Parbang Heritage House but no action had been taken by the competent national authorities. The mission was informed that in 2001, of the 74 building permits issued upon approval by the Heritage House, 20 had been constructed in non-respect of the authorized design. In addition, some 140 constructions have taken place without permit. In view of the small area of the historic centre, this represents some 10% of the buildings and included the demolition of three listed buildings.
Bank of the Nam Khan River
Following the recommendation of the 24th session of the Bureau, an ICOMOS mission was dispatched to evaluate the construction design and engineering mechanics of the riverbank consolidation proposed by the contractor of the Asian Development Bank's Secondary Cities (ADB) project. The ICOMOS expert's report which judged the design to be satisfactory was transmitted by UNESCO to the national authorities and ADB. The consolidation work has since been completed. The hydro-engineering experts and the urban planning experts of the decentralized cooperation programme (joint Chinon-Luang Prabang-UNESCO programme supported by the French Development Agency-AFD) has judged the work to seriously impair the value of the site, not only in terms of negative visual impact but particularly for the unnecessary widening of the quay along the riverbank which transforms the delicate urban morphology of the town. The open ditch created to capture rainwater run-off along the riverbank has also aggravated the problem of solid waste with the ditch being used as a waste disposal. The experts also expressed reserve over the technical feasibility of the consolidation work, both for the original design and the actual realization.
Decentralized Cooperation Programme (Luang Prabang-Chinon under the aegis of UNESCO/WHC and supported by the AFD, EU, French bilateral cooperation)
Given the serious deterioration of the situation caused by the non-respect of the conservation plan implemented in part through the building permit system, and in view of the continued weakness of the legal framework and the administration capacity of the local authorities, the decentralized cooperation programme was prolonged in September 2001 for another three years by mutual agreement between Luang Prabang and Chinon at the request of UNESCO with financial support from the Region Centre, EU and the French Government.
A second AFD urban conservation and development project for an amount of 5.5 million euro for a three-year project was signed in May 2001. This project foresees the provision of technical expertise under the decentralized cooperation programme which includes periodical missions by UNESCO.
The subsidy and micro-credit scheme to support the conservation of privately-owned houses in the protected historic core is at a standstill since the termination of the first phase of the decentralized cooperation programme between Luang Prabang and Chinon at the end of 2000. Consultations with the local inhabitants to enhance their participation in the conservation process which had been one of the most promising aspects of the activities carried out by the Heritage House had also ceased.
The Bureau expresses great concern over, (a) the rapid increase in illegal demolition of historic buildings including those listed on the inventory of traditional wooden buildings; (b) the illegal construction of buildings including those of public administrations in the World Heritage protected area of Luang Prabang demonstrating non-respect for the building permit system; (c) visual impairment and possible engineering problems of the consolidation works carried out along the banks of the Nam Khan River; (d) delay in the finalization of the national heritage protection laws and regulations, hence delay in their enactment by the National Assembly of Laos, despite the commitment made by the Government in its letter of September 1995 addressed to the Director-General of UNESCO; (e) delay in the official adoption by the national authorities of the Luang Prabang conservation plan (PSMV) also promised in the letter cited above; (f) lack of progress in the establishment of the subsidy and micro-credit scheme to support the conservation of privately owned buildings in the historic core; and (g) non-continuation of consultation process with the local inhabitants which the Burea deems to be essential for the protection of a site largely composed of privately owned traditional houses. The Bureau, while noting with appreciation the tangible support provided by the City of Chinon through its decentralized cooperation programme, as well as by the French Development Agency (AFD), the European Union and the Region Centre amongst others, requests all external partners to ensure that their activities contribute to national capacity-building rather than to the mere completion of the public works. The Bureau reiterates the importance of maintaining the authenticity and the integrity of the town of Luang Prabang whose World Heritage values are based on the link between the natural and the built environment as well as on the harmonious fusion and co-existence between the traditional Lao and the late-19th century European urban patterns and the corresponding architectural styles.
The Bureau requests the Centre: (a) to arrange for an urgent reactive monitoring mission composed of experts representing ICOMOS and UNESCO with technical competence to evaluate the situation referred to above, including the hydro-engineering problems; (b) to organize with the national and local authorities concerned, a technical meeting during this mission with all external and national agencies involved in urban conservation and infrastructure development activities in Luang Prabang with a view to enhancing cooperation along a set of defined conservation objectives; (c) to support the State Party in taking immediate measures to halt the process of deterioration to the World Heritage value of the site; (d) to inform the State Party of its deep concern over the non-response to its repeated requests for information on the progress in the adoption of legal and management tools in ensuring the protection of this World Heritage site; and (e) to renew its request for a full report to be submitted to the Centre by 1 February 2003, on the measures taken to redress the threats, to enable to Bureau to examine the case at its 27th session.
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Requests Approved: 0
Total Amount Ap proved: 92,242USD
|1998||Promotion of WH Convention in Town of Luang Prabang, Laos||5,000 USD|
|1997||Luang Prabang Workshop and Training material for enhanced ...||25,000 USD|
|1996||Conservation of Traditional Houses in Luang Prabang||39,900 USD|
|1996||Preparation of a Manual on guidelines for the conservation and ...||7,342 USD|
|1994||Preparation of a nomination file for Luang Prabang||15,000 USD|
July 1999: World Heritage Centre mission; September 2000: World Heritage Centre / France-UNESCO Convention mission; April 2002: WHC/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Inappropriate conservation methods
- New constructions
- Need for a Safeguarding and Development Plan of the town
- Urgent need for the enactment of a Cultural Properties Protection Law
Current conservation issues
Following the request of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, an urgent UNESCO WHC-ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission was undertaken to Luang Prabang from 24-28 April 2002 due to the gravity of the information concerning the continuation of public works negatively impacting on the World Heritage values of the site being carried out by the Urban Development Authority (UDAA), an entity established by the Government to implement the activities financed under the Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan. The mission was accompanied by the Mayor of Chinon in view of Chinon's role since 1996 as the main partner of Luang Prabang in the decentralized cooperation programme for the strengthening of local capacity brokered by the Centre. The Representative of the French Development Agency (AFD) was requested by UNESCO to participate in the field visits and the meetings to explain the technical aspects of the excellent demonstration public works projects being undertaken by Maison du Patrimoine (MDP) under the decentralized cooperation scheme with AFD grant aid.
The mission held a series of meetings with the Maison du patrimoine (MDP-Heritage House, the advisory service attached to the Luang Prabang local government created in 1996 with catalytic support from the WH Fund and extrabudgetary funds raised by the Centre); the Department of Construction, and the Local Inter-departmental Committee on Heritage headed by the Prefet of Luang Prabang. The mission was also received by the new Governor of Luang Prabang, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Construction. The mission also had the opportunity to express its concerns to the Director of the Asian Development Bank in Laos.
The preliminary findings of the mission are as follows:
1. Concrete reinforcement of the Nam Khan river bank: this Asian Development Bank-financed work is completed; despite the negative visual impact of the gabions, the ICOMOS structural engineer judged that the reinforcement is beneficial to support the road along the riverbank although the massive design was not justified since the low velocity of the river currents of the Nam Khan caused minimal erosion. The mission recommended that the gabions be covered with vegetation to soften the negative visual impact.
2. Walls along the riverbank of the Mekong: several hundred metres of walls along the Mekong are being constructed despite the negative recommendations of the MDP. These walls, cut the view of the Mekong River from the road thereby undermining the strong links between the natural and built environment which is one of the world heritage values of Luang Prabang. Given the strong seasonal currents of the Mekong River and the increasing risk of floods due to global warming, the ICOMOS expert stressed the potential dangers of such concrete retaining walls at times of heavy floods and strongly advised against the continued construction of theses walls whose purpose is merely to delimit the quay along the riverbank. For the sections not yet built, the walls should be replaced by hedges of plants to delimit the quay and the riverbank should be consolidated where required by appropriate vegetation. MDP’s Water and Environment Unit (established with European Union funding) should be requested to draw-up the technical design of these works for approval by the Department of Construction and the Local Inter-departmental Heritage Committee.
3. Illegal Demolition and construction: despite the strong initial adherence by the local inhabitants to the building permit system established in 1997 by provincial decree, violations have become increasingly current over the past two years, particularly by the wealthy inhabitants. Given the non-monumental character of this World Heritage site, continued demolition of traditional timber houses of great vernacular architectural value and further densification of the core area with new construction violating architectural design and volumetric guidelines would lead to the loss of the world heritage value of the site. The mission expressed great concern over the non-respect of the officially approved urban development and conservation plan (Plan de sauvegard et mise en valeur – PSMV), in some cases even by the public works department of the provincial government and the UDAA.
4. Threats on the urban wetlands: widening of the foot path in the urban wetlands into vehicular roads and inappropriately-designed drainage system in the wetlands are being carried out by UDAA under the Asian Development Bank loan scheme. These roads which have not been approved by the MDP risk further urbanisation of the area designated as nature protection area (ZPP-N) where construction is prohibited. The MDP water and environment expert and the ICOMOS expert believe that the open sewage canals may lead to the partial drainage of the area but will most likely leave pockets of still water which may aggravate water-born disease. The mission noted mosquito-infested still water in the open flat-bottom canals 1.25 metres wide installed only one metre from the existing houses. Moreover, the Provincial Department of Finance constructed a new building in the ZPP-N area undermining the rehabilitation of the urban wetlands being undertaken by the MDP under a EU-funded project designed by the Centre and Chinon.
5. Traditional building material: The failure despite efforts by MDP and international partners including UNESCO since 1998 to improve the quality of the local production of traditional roof tiles have led to the MDP approving the use of cement roof tiles pending the availability of roof tiles of better quality. Renewed efforts are needed to address this problem. The importation from Thailand or China of good quality roof tiles as well as the mobilisation of technical and financial assistance from bilateral or multilateral cooperation agencies will need to be considered urgently in view of the importance of roofing material in preserving the architectural features of the town.
The UNESCO-ICOMOS mission transmitted the concern of the World Heritage Committee and discussed with the Local Heritage Committee of Luang Prabang and the national authorities the following corrective measures indicating its intention to submit these proposals and the findings of the mission to the 26th session of the World Heritage Committee:
Corrective measure N°1 aimed at better control of illegal constructions:
A procedure to monitor construction and to stop in time illegal works needs to be established, involving the Department of Cooperation and the MDP.
Corrective measure N° 2 to ensure respect of the law by everyone:
The Lao authorities will execute as an example and with the necessary publicity, at least one or two demolitions of the illegal constructions.
Corrective measure N°3 aimed at awareness raising of the Development and Conservation Plan by the local administration
As soon as possible the Governor of the province of Luang Prabang will present the Development and Conservation Plan of the Maison du Patrimoine. This presentation will be followed by a visit to the site. The Governor will organize and preside, within a two month period, a one-day workshop at which would participate Chiefs of all Provincial Departments.
Corrective measure N°4 to raise awareness of the Development and Conservation Plan by the enterprises:
Within the two-month period, a meeting of the enterprises and contractors having participated in the public works in the protected zone will be organized with the provincial services concerned and the Maison du Patrimoine to explain the Development and Conservation Plan.
Corrective measure N° 5 aimed at stopping the public works in progress contrary to the Development and Conservation Plan:
The construction of the road in the proximity of the Ecomuseum of Boua Kang Bung will be stopped. The Maison du Patrimoine will propose an alternative solution.
In conformity with the recommendations of the ICOMOS expert, the construction works of the supporting walls along the Mekong riverbanks will be limited to the completion of the works-in-progress. No new construction of supporting walls will be undertaken.
A recovery of the drainage canals will be undertaken in conformity with the propositions which will be established by the MDP to remedy the current situation.
In conformity with the recommendations of the ICOMOS expert, the gabions on the banks of the Nam Khan will be completely recovered by soil and plantations will be installed.
Corrective measure N° 6 aimed at promoting the follow-up of the Development and Conservation Plan:
The Local Heritage Committee will meet regularly once a month in the presence of all services concerned. It will treat difficult or contentious cases. It will transmit to the national Committee the questions which could not be settled at the local level.
Corrective measure N°7 aimed at better management of public places:
A well-planned and multi-usage solution will be elaborated between the provincial departments and the MDP (Asia-Urbs project) to conserve the "Place d'armes" in its function as square where commercial activity can also take place. The temporary use by the commercial activity will be regulated with care to ensure small markets in the city and to respect the cultural pluri-ethnic diversity.
Corrective measure N°8 to establish a Fund to help the local inhabitants:
The Fund to help the local inhabitants should work efficiently, notably on the 15 samples of the houses which have been identified. The Fund should provide an urgent solution to the problem of tiles by immediate import of a stock of quality tiles
Analysis and Conclusion
The World Heritage Committee,
Link to the decision
1. Upon examination of the findings of the UNESCO-ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission, expresses great concern over the ill-designed public works, particularly the road widening in the protected urban wetlands area and the riverbank consolidation along the Mekong financed under the Asian Development Bank loan which undermine the World Heritage value of the site, and the lack of compliance with the conservation plan (PSMV), despite its official adoption by the local and national authorities;
2. Endorses the 8-point corrective measures proposed by the mission;
3. Invites the Director-General to write to the President of the Asian Development Bank requesting the latter to support the local authorities of Luang Prabang in reinforcing the urban conservation and management capacity;
4. Requests the Centre to discuss the modalities for the implementation of the corrective measures;
5. Further requests the Centre and the Advisory Bodies to provide technical support to the State Party in the implementation of the proposed corrective measures;6. Requests the State Party to provide by 1 February 2003, a progress report on the implementation of corrective measures for examination at its 27th session in June/July 2003.
Link to the decision
XII.91 The Bureau examined the report on the state of conservation of this property presented in working document WHC-02/CONF.201/11 Rev.
The Bureau expressed great concern over:
(a) the rapid increase in illegal demolition of historic buildings, including those listed on the inventory of traditional wooden buildings;
(b) the illegal construction of buildings including those of public administrations, in the World Heritage protected area of Luang Prabang, which demonstrates non-respect for the building permit system;
(c) visual impairment and possible engineering problems regarding the Asian Development Bank-financed consolidation works carried out along the banks of the Nam Khan River;
(d) delay in the finalization of the national heritage protection laws and regulations, hence delay in their enactment by the National Assembly of Laos, despite the commitment made by the Government in its letter of September 1995, addressed to the Director-General of UNESCO;
(e) delay in the official adoption by the national authorities of the Luang Prabang conservation plan (Plan de Sauvagarde et de Mise en Valeur-PSMV), also promised in the letter cited above;
(f) lack of progress in the establishment of the subsidy and micro-credit scheme to support the conservation of privately-owned buildings in the historic core; and
(g) non-continuation of consultation process with the local inhabitants, considered essential for the protection of a site largely composed of privately-owned traditional houses.
XII.92 The Bureau, while noting with appreciation the tangible and well-coordinated support provided by the City of Chinon through its decentralized co-operation programme, in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD), the European Union and the Region Centre amongst others, requested all other national and international actors working in Luang Prabang to ensure that their activities contribute to national capacity-building, rather than to the mere completion of the public works. The Bureau reiterated the importance of maintaining the authenticity and the integrity of the town of Luang Prabang, whose World Heritage values are based on the link between the natural and the built environment as well as on the harmonious fusion and co-existence between the traditional Lao and the late 19th-century European urban patterns and the corresponding architectural styles.
XII.93 The Bureau requested the World Heritage Centre to:
(a) arrange for an urgent reactive monitoring mission composed of experts representing ICOMOS and UNESCO with technical competence to evaluate the situation referred to above, including the hydro-engineering problems;
(b) organize a technical meeting during this mission with the national and local authorities concerned and with all external and national agencies involved in urban conservation and infrastructure development activities in Luang Prabang, with a view to reinforce co-operation according to a set of defined conservation objectives;
(c) support the State Party in taking immediate measures to halt the process of deterioration to the World Heritage value of the site;
(d) inform the State Party of its deep concern over the non-response to its repeated requests for information on the progress in the adoption of legal and management tools in ensuring the protection of this World Heritage site; and
(e) renew its request for a full report on the measures taken to redress the threats, to be submitted to the Centre by 1 February 2003, for examination by the Bureau at its 27th session of the Bureau in April 2003.
The Committee may wish to adopt the following decision:
"The Committee, upon examination of the findings of the UNESCO-ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission expresses great concern over the non-respect of the conservation plan (PSMV) despite its official adoption by the local and national authorities and endorses the corrective measures proposed by the mission. The Committee requests (1) the Director-General of UNESCO to write to the President of the Asian Development Bank requesting the latter to support the local authorities of Luang Prabang to reinforce its urban management capacity; (2) the Centre to discuss the modalities for the implementation of the corrective measures; (3) the Centre and the Advisory Bodies to provide technical support to the State Party in the implementation of the proposed corrective measures. The Committee requests the State Party to provide a progress report to the Centre by 1 February 2003 for examination by the Bureau at its 27th session in April 2003.
Town of Luang Prabang
- Deliberate destruction of heritage
- Ground transport infrastructure
- Illegal activities
- Management activities
- Other Threats:
Concrete reinforcement of the Nam Khan river bank ; Construction of walls along the riverbank of the Mekong;
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).