The world’s cultural promotion organisation UNESCO has requested a new social impact assessment for the fifth proposed dam development project on the Lower Mekong, Luang Prabang, for fears that it could pose threats against the World Heritage site of Luang Prabang’s cultural values
Luang Prabang has been put in the spotlight again as there have been news reports that UNESCO has requested a more detailed social impact assessment for the Lower Mekong’s fifth proposed dam project, Luang Prabang, designated relatively close to the town.
Inscribed as the World Heritage site since 1995 and being Laos’ tourism magnet for years, the cultural assessment organization fears that potential impacts of the dam could put this Luang Prabang Town at risk, Radio Free Asia has reported this week.
The news agency has interviewed UNESCO World Heritage Center’s Director, Dr. Mechtild Rossler, who said the organization was informed in March last year about the planned project.
Although it would be outside the World Heritage Site, around 25 km upstream, but the center’s director pointed the project was quite close to it.
Dr. Rossler told RFA that the organization had written to the Laos government, asking for an assessment on possible impacts on the heritage and a risk analysis.
She was also quoted as saying that the organization would be presenting the state of conservation of this side of the problem to the next session of the World Heritage Committee. This has been planned to take place in June or July this year in China.
Being small in size, this ancient town of Laos has been inscribed as the World Heritage site for over 25 years already.
“An outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions”, UNESCO notes on its cultural values.
Located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region, the town is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River, encircled by the lush greenery of the Phou Thao and Phou Nang mountains.
According to UNESCO, the creation of the town was associated with many legends, including one that recounts that Buddha would have smiled when he rested there during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city.
Known as Muang Sua, then Xieng Thong, from the 14th to the 16th century the town became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants), whose wealth and influence were related to its strategic location on the Silk Route.
It was also the centre of Buddhism in the region, UNESCO notes. Its name, Luang Prabang, also takes from a statue of Buddha, the Prabang, offered by Cambodia.
After the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1893, following a period of turmoil during which the country was divided into three independent kingdoms, Luang Prabang once again became the royal and religious capital during the reign of King Sisavang Vong.
It played this role until Vientiane became the administrative capital in 1946, according to UNESCO.