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Climate change case studies

Preventing climate-related impacts in the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone (Peru)

After Chan Chan was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, a disaster risk reduction plan was developed and integrated with heritage management mechanisms. The plan provided valuable strategies for long-term climate change adaptation and heritage conservation.

About Chan Chan Archaeological Zone

Located on the northern coast of present-day Peru, about 480 km north of Lima in the Moche valley, between the Pacific Ocean and the city of Trujillo, the World Heritage site “Chan Chan Archaeological Zone”, as a capital of the ancient Chimu Kingdom, is one of the largest and most important pre-Hispanic earthen architecture cities in the Americas. The property was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986 under criteria (i) (iii).

“The Outstanding Universal Value of Chan Chan resides in the extensive, hierarchically planned remains of this huge city, including remnants of the industrial, agricultural and water management systems that sustained it. The monumental zone of around six square kilometres in the centre of the once twenty square kilometre city, comprises nine large rectangular complexes (‘citadels’ or ‘palaces’) delineated by high thick earthen walls. Within these units, buildings including temples, dwellings, storehouses are arranged around open spaces, together with reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The earthen walls of the buildings were often decorated with friezes representing abstract motifs, and anthropomorphical and zoomorphical subjects. Around these nine complexes were thirty two semi monumental compounds and four production sectors for activities such as weaving wood and metal working. Extensive agricultural areas and a remnant irrigation system have been found further to the north, east and west of the city. The Moche and Chicama rivers once supplied an intricate irrigation system via an approximately 80 kilometre long canal, sustaining the region around Chan Chan during the height of the Chimu civilisation.”

The property was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986 because of the precarious state of conservation of the earthen architecture and its vulnerability to the extreme climatic events caused by El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. Furthermore, the ruins were threatened by the endemic plundering of archaeological remains and by the proposed construction of a road crossing the site. Since the inscription, various steps have been taken towards achieving the desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, including the implementation of corrective measures, the development of a management plan and the emergency and disaster preparedness plan.

Chan Chan, Perú © Carlos Adampol Galindo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
Chan Chan, Perú © Carlos Adampol Galindo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
Adobe detail at Chan Chan © Kevstan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change-related impacts

Intense precipitation is damaging the base of the earthen architecture structures. It leads to greater humidity in the lower parts of the buildings and, consequently, to an increase in salt contamination of the structures and to the growth of vegetation such as reeds and water lilies in the low lying huachaques.

A monitoring survey of the sixty-eight wells in August 2000 was revealed a progressive rise of the water levels. This phenomenon was due to the combined effect of changes in the irrigation technology for extensive monocultures in the area and the reduction of the use of water as the local population obtained fresh water from a new system. Climate change poses an additional source of stress on this site. The intense precipitations during the El Niño events also significantly contributed to the increase of the groundwater level. (1),(2)

Climate action solutions and strategies

The Ministry of Culture in Peru (MC), through its decentralised office in the department of La Libertad, is the main agency charged with conserving and defending Chan Chan. It collaborates with authorities at the national, regional, and municipal levels to implement actions, particularly concerning illegal occupations of the property. The property is protected by national laws and decrees.

Following the inscription of Chan Chan on the List of World Heritage in Danger, a Master Plan has been designed with the support of the World Heritage Fund, and the training for conservation and management has improved.

  • The first Pan-American Course on the Conservation and Management of Earthen Architectural and Archaeological Heritage, which directly benefits the preservation and management planning for the site, was held in Chan Chan in 1996, jointly organised by the Government of Peru, the International Organization for Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ICCROM), the International Centre for Earthen Construction (CRATerre-ENSAG) and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI).
  • In September 1997, a USD 50,000 emergency assistance fund was allocated through the World Heritage Fund to implement immediate measures to protect the most significant and vulnerable parts of Chan Chan against the devastating impacts of the El Niño phenomenon. Long-term adaptation of the foundations and structures for the main buildings and the architecture surrounding the Huachaque of the Tschudi Palace. These works are carried out by combining the use of traditional materials and skills as well as modern engineering techniques.
  • In addition, remedial measures have been implemented since 1999 to address the threats derived from the rising water table levels at the property. The Plan of Action has included the maintenance of drains that control the water table level, stabilisation of perimeter walls of palaces and funerary platforms, control of vegetation, maintenance of public use areas, architectural documentation for conservation and management, capacity building for local craftsmen and awareness building measures for students and the local community.
  • The first Management plan was approved in 2000 and was updated and reviewed as new conditions arose, and actions prescribed are completed. Implementation of the action plan has mainly involved the maintenance of drains that control the water table level, stabilisation of perimeter walls of palaces and funerary platforms, control of vegetation, maintenance of public use areas, architectural documentation for conservation and management, capacity building for local craftsmen and awareness building measures for students and the local community. This plan was updated in 2021 with a ten-year action plan too.

The continuity in the implementation of actions has improved with the creation in 2006 of the Implementing Unit 110 and the allocation of sustained funding for the implementation of the management plan. However, in order to meet the challenges facing the property, there is an urgent need to secure the full operation of an adequate participatory management system and ensure that financial and human resources are adequate to allow for the sustained implementation of conservation, protection and public use management actions. An effective risk management plan is also needed to address both the social and natural threats to the property.

During the 2014 Ministry of Culture ENSO program, the preventive measures to protect the site were successfully implemented in order to mitigate the consequences of the El Niño phenomenon. The preventive conservation actions included the general cleaning of the intervened sites, the protection and stabilisation of walls, the installation of a roof (4,270 m2) in Chan Chan and information panels of the heritage assets for their identification and protection. In addition, treatment of runoff and prosecution was carried out in rugged areas in order to channel the water that comes down from the hills through its natural conduit and, thus, avoid affecting the archaeological sites. The prevention work was implemented through the participation of more than 400 workers, which has also allowed the awareness of the inhabitants of the surrounding areas about the care of their heritage.

Chan Chan walls © Robert Nunn, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The Ministry of Culture has invested, in total, a budget of more than 22 million 500 thousand soles in the protection of 13 archaeological sites in this region. (3)

After El Niño of 2017, founded by the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund, UNESCO Lima coordinated a joint UN-Government Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) mission in three departments of the northern coast of Peru. The mission included technical training for culture professionals, engagement with local communities and stakeholders, and consultations with environmentalists, architects and tourism industry representatives to elaborate a recovery strategy for the culture sector in the affected provinces, especially in Chan Chan. (4)

Chan Chan, Perú © Carlos Adampol Galindo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
“Through the Pan American Center for the Conservation of the World Heritage, of the Special Project of the Chan Chan Archaeological Complex, the Ministry of Culture continues executing research programs for the identification of archaeological and modern construction materials linked to the conservation works of the projects executed in 2019; complemented with experimental studies to improve the resistance and physical properties of materials used in such works; the monitoring of environmental parameters (meteorological behaviour), the volumetric survey of the buildings with advanced technology equipment, the monitoring and control of the water level and the diagnosis oriented to the prevention of rains. It also has new equipment for physical and mechanical analysis, thus improving the implementation of the laboratory, activities that together contribute to the conservation of the physical attributes of the Property” (5)

In 2021 the World Heritage Committee and the Advisory Bodies recognised that numerous activities related to cleaning, awareness raising and communication were implemented in 2019, all in collaboration with educational institutions and local communities, even though the Public Use Plan has not yet been approved. The Committee has also welcomed the research and monitoring activities of the Pan-American Conservation Centre for Earthen Heritage Sites (PCCEHS) related to scientific research of materials and construction techniques, the monitoring of environmental and state of conservation conditions using, for example, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and laser scanners.

However, for the removal of the Property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR), two essential components of the programme of corrective measures should be completed, such as the delimitation and regulation of the proposed buffer zone and the implementation of the law on illegal occupation. (6)


  1. Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage, UNESCO, 2007.
  2. Summary for Policy-Makers, IPCC, 2001.
  3. Ministerio de Cultura invirtió más de S/.6 millones en la protección de 13 sitios arqueológicos de La Libertad ante El Niño, Unique digital platform of the Peruvian State.
  4. Recovery of Peru’s Culture Sector following the Recent Floods caused by El Niño, UNESCO, 2017.
  5. Chan Chan Archaeological site: Annual Report on The Conservation Of World Heritage, Republic Of Peru, 2019.
  6. UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Decision - 44 COM 7A.37.
  7. Report on the state of conservation of the Chan Chan World Heritage Site, 2019.
  8. State of Conservation, Chan Chan World Heritage Site.

Contribution towards global goals

How does this case study contribute to the global commitments of sustainable development, climate change action and heritage conservation?

© Carlos Adampol Galindo, CC BY-ND 2.0, via Flickr

Sustainable development

The initiative aims to contribute towards sustainable development by addressing the following Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Target 11.4: the initiatives aim to strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage.

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Target 13.1: the initiatives aim to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.

Note: the described potential impacts of the initiative are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. The World Heritage Centre does not carry out independent verification of the projects and their impacts.

Climate change

The Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone is vulnerable to climate change, and the extreme climatic events caused by El Niño phenomenon that affects the northern coast of Peru. Its earthen structures are particularly vulnerable and thus quickly damaged by natural erosion as they become exposed to the environment, and they require continuous conservation efforts and substantial ancillary measures. The rapid and seemingly unstoppable erosion of the remains constitutes a serious obstacle to the in-depth knowledge of the site. Many of the structures excavated and surveyed in the past have suffered significant decay.

  • Preparing disaster risk reduction plans integrated with heritage management frameworks.
  • Preventive actions in the face of predicted climate disasters.
  • World Heritage processes, monitoring and international assistance can support resilience and preparedness.

Learn more

Discover more about the details of the case study and the stakeholders involved.

© Carlos Adampol Galindo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

To learn more


Decentralised Directorate of Culture La Libertad:

Special Project Chan Chan Archaeological Complex

© UNESCO, 2022. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Altynay Dyussekova, Mirna Ashraf Ali.
Cover image: AlisonRuthHughes, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased on this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices, nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The described potential impacts of the initiative are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. The World Heritage Centre does not carry out independent verification of the projects and their impacts.