1.         Town of Luang Prabang (Lao People's Democratic Republic) (C 479bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1995

Criteria  (ii)(iv)(v)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1994-1998)
Total amount approved: USD 92,242
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 195,000 (France-UNESCO Convention)

Previous monitoring missions

UNESCO missions (France-UNESCO Convention): November 2005, April 2006, and October 2006. 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Urban pressure on the non-constructible zones

b) Urban infrastructure work posing threats to the value of the property

c) Illegal construction

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2007

Luang Prabang was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1995. At the time of inscription, as the State Party did not have the necessary management tools to ensure the preservation of the site, UNESCO appealed to the City of Chinon and the Central Region of France to assist the Lao authorities in the framework of decentralised cooperation. This cooperation led to the creation of a management authority (Heritage House), the elaboration of a regulatory framework (Safeguarding and Enhancement Plan, PSMV) and to a safeguarding programme for the World Heritage site. As from 1999, financial support from bilateral and multilateral cooperation, in particular through the French Development Agency (AFD) and the European Union, enabled the implementation of this large-scale programme: restoration of buildings (religious and civil architecture) and urban renovation (roads, drainage, networks). The programme focused on the transfer of skills, and today the Heritage House has a competent technical team in charge of the implementation of the PSMV.

In the framework of the safeguarding programme for the site, regular monitoring/evaluation missions are carried out through decentralised cooperation or by experts made available in the framework of the France-UNESCO Convention.

The evaluation mission carried out in October 2006 stressed certain positive aspects of the management of the property, notably the remarkable work of the advisory and supervising body, Heritage House. The recent creation of a public information service at the Ban Xieng Moane House, for example, is a key element conferring legitimacy to the activity of the Heritage House. All documents produced since ten years are available for public consultation, as well as the database freely accessible on four computers. In spite of increasing pressures, the responsiveness of the office in charge of building permits is remarkable in view of the conditions under which it works. Following a thorough analysis of the regulations of the safeguarding plan, and a site visit, case-by-case negotiation results in a more respectful architecture of the site and its architectural regulations.

Although very positive, this strategy of providing support to projects sometimes encounters the bad will of certain owners refusing to conform to established rules. The mission also noticed a trend towards the sharp increase in the number of plots (already excessive), including in non-constructible zones, which in the long-term could alter the special nature of the urban landscape of Luang Prabang and threaten its integrity.

In the context of a certain easing in the strict application of the rules, this attitude, in any event the best in view of the constraints is valid for most authorizations, but it is not without risk for big operations. This is especially the case in a context of weakening coordination and decision-making bodies (National Heritage Committee and Local Heritage Committee), which have not met for several months, and of the Heritage House, whose mandate should be better defined and its capacities strengthened.

The mission also underlined the urban and construction pressures affecting the World Heritage site. Large scale hotel projects are envisaged in the non-constructible zones, on the right bank of the Mekong. Uncontrolled urbanisation in the flood run-off zones increases the risk of flooding. Numerous urban infrastructure operations, financed through bilateral or multilateral international cooperation, are programmed within the inscribed perimeter and on its periphery. These include projects being developed by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). In the absence of an established framework for coordination, these operations could threaten the outstanding universal value of the site.

The establishment of this framework for intervention requires an evaluation of urban and socio-economic developments since the inscription of the site and the definition of a new action plan. Indeed, the inscription of Luang Prabang on the World Heritage List has not led, as is usually the case, to the definition of a buffer zone. Aware of the lack of this buffer zone and its potential consequences for the protection of the property, the partners have undertaken a study for a plan for territorial coherence.

A diagnostic and planning document – the Territorial Coherence Plan (SCOT) – was therefore drawn up in 2004 by the AFD on the urban area scale of 375 km2. It enabled the identification of urban pressure, pinpoint the peripheral zones where increased development might alter the value of the property, and to establish scenarios for the development of the city. However, as the Urban Development Plan has not been revised, the SCOT is not yet an operational planning tool.

Moreover, for the long-term preservation of the outstanding universal value of the property, the SCOT studies reveal the necessity of maintaining the territorial balance at the regional level in order to control the migratory flux of the neighbouring rural populations to the city. Indeed, a massive rural exodus could not only throw off balance the traditional mode of territorial occupation (land-use) and the exploitation of the natural resources, but could also increase the pressures on the World Heritage site (overpopulation of the protected sector) and threaten the outstanding universal value of the property. Measures for the preservation of the natural environment and human habitations, and support for the development of the rural areas have thus been undertaken on the scale of the catchments area of the Nam Khan. These measures are concretised in a project for the creation of a biosphere reserve in the Nam Khan Valley, (tributary of the Mekong of which the mouth is located at Luang Prabang), in the framework of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

In order to sustain the preservation of the property, and ensure a balance in its development within the region, the expert mission recommended to:

a) pursue the strict application of the PSMV, especially by preserving the non-constructible status of the natural zones situated within the inscribed perimeter and by controlling the overpopulation of the site, as well as the survey of illicit constructions initiated by the provincial authorities;

b) pursue and finalise the planning procedure at the peri-urban level, to control the impact of urban development, infrastructure projects and natural risks to the World Heritage site. The creation of a buffer zone of the World Heritage property is recommended, in the framework of a revision of the Urban Development Plan, based on the perimeter and the recommendations of the Territorial Coherence Plan (SCOT), which should become operational ;

c) pursue the procedure for the creation of a biosphere reserve undertaken by the State Party, which could improve the balance between the World Heritage site and the region.

Concerning the need for strengthening the governance of the property, the expert mission also recommended:

a) the rapid conveening and the regular holding of meetings of the two coordinating and decision-making bodies (National Heritage Committee and Local Heritage Committee);

b) an evaluation of the quality of development and rehabilitation projects and the developments noted since the inscription of the property, especially in terms of overpopulation and use (impact of tourism development on the activities and uses): this evaluation could perhaps benefit from the support of UNESCO (in the framework of a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS evaluation mission), and that of decentralised cooperation and the AFD;

c) the coordination of projects envisaged on the inscribed perimeter and its periphery, which should be coherent with the framework envisaged by the SCOT, eventually through the organisation of a coordination meeting of the funding agencies at the end of 2007.

In the light of these observations and recommendations that have been discussed with the State Party, the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that it would be useful to undertake a reactive monitoring mission to the site. The objective of this mission would be to evaluate the nature and potential impact of the large-scale projects being planned around the listed property and the other above-mentioned issues linked to the safeguarding of the site. It would also aim to advise the State Party on the extent of the possible buffer zone to be established as well as the most appropriate regulations for its management and use.  

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM


Decision Adopted: 31 COM 7B.73

The World Heritage Committee,

1.       Having examined Document WHC-07/31.COM/7B.Add,

2.       Recalling Decision 29 COM 7B.60, adopted at its 29th session (Durban, 2005),

3.       Notes the considerable efforts made by the Heritage House in the exercise of its functions and calls for a better definition of the Heritage House's mandate and the strengthening of local capacities and involvement.

4.       Recommends to the State Party the creation of a buffer zone, to mitigate the pressures on the World Heritage property, and requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission, at the end of 2007, to evaluate the property's state of conservation and to make  recommendations concerning the establishment of a buffer zone, in the form of a revision of the Urban Development Plan and based on the recommendations formulated in the Territorial Coherence Plan (SCOT);

5.       Notes with satisfaction the efforts undertaken by the State Party for the creation of a biosphere reserve in the catchment area of the Nam Khan and encourages it to pursue this process which would contribute to improving the equilibrium between the World Heritage site and the region;

6.       Calls the attention of the State Party to the need for implementing measures for the prevention of natural risks, flooding in particular,  and requests it to carry out a study on risks involved with the urbanisation of the flood run-off zones and the impact of the hydraulic projects envisaged on the Mekong and the Nam Khan ;

7.       Also recommends to the State Party to carry out an evaluation of the quality of the development projects and on developments noted since the inscription of the property, especially in terms of overpopulation and use;  

8.       Also requests the State Party to pursue the strict application of the Safeguarding and Enhancement Plan (PSMV), and especially:

a)      to preserve the non-constructible status of the natural zones within the inscribed perimeter,

b)      to control the densification of the site in application of the provisions of the PSMV,

c)      to pursue the survey of illicit constructions. 

9.       Further recommends the organization of a coordination meeting of the funding agencies at the end of 2007, with the participation of the World Heritage Centre, to coordinate the projects envisaged in the property and its periphery by bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies, in the framework of principles established in the SCOT ;

10.     Also encourages the State Party to call upon support, if necessary, from decentralised cooperation between Luang Prabang Province, the city of Chinon and the Central Region, as well as from Technical Assistance provided by UNESCO in the framework of the France-UNESCO Convention, to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations above ;

11.     Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2008 a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement all of the above recommendations, for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008.