Heritage sites in Việt Nam: Development or destruction?

As much as I love the rain and the heat of Việt Nam, it’s a tough environment.

Bopping along on my motorbike I get hammered by dust, sand, wind and rain drops that feel like Ping-Pong balls.

Mother Nature is tapping us on the shoulder.

“Oi!

Wanna see what I can do to your flimsy, fragile tourist sites?”

We’ve been pounded in the central region by weeks of heavy rain exposing the flaws in our beliefs and technical confidence at building and protecting tourism sites.

It also brings into question the notion of what is ‘national heritage’ and the processes involved in protecting Việt Nam’s precious and vital environmental treasures.

Why ‘vital’?

All these issues have an impact on the development of sustainable tourism and Việt Nam’s need for jobs and a revitalized economy.

It’s not easy to see a connection between them but all of them have problems with preservation of the environment, their management and the national heritage of Việt Nam.

The question is, is the process of deciding about the development of projects in heritage areas good enough?

It’s been an unseasonably hot and on/off rainy season so far on the central coast.

With winter yet to really bite the possibility of more damage is very likely.

SonDoongSơn Đoòng Cave in central Việt Nam

The Mỹ Sơn Holy land B3 and B5 Towers are tilting and need urgent conservation treatment as the rain has softened the ground around the previous protection work. Is it time to limit access around the site?

Add to this the news that structural deterioration of the Huế Citadel is threatening its UNESCO heritage listing and you start to wonder what’s going on.

The growing discussion on the issue of installing a cable car system in the world’s biggest cave – the stunningly beautiful and ethereal Sơn Đoòng Cave (hang Sơn Đoòng, “Mountain River Cave” in Vietnamese) is another good example.

Local officials commenting on the cable car idea are citing the need to be cautious as the poor tourism infrastructure – including training in hospitality and environmental protection – needs upgrading before mass tourism impacts the district.

If a tourist loved the cave but hated the hotel, what will they tell the world? Indeed, UNESCO has just requested a ‘please explain’ detailed plan of the project.

The coastline near Hội An’s harbor has been drastically eroded, threatening the economic survival of at least two resorts and the long-term viability of two others.

There are two more resorts under construction in that area as well.

Perhaps it’s time to limit the building distance between the shoreline and the structures…

Typhoons love gobbling up the sand and they laugh at vertical metal seawalls going up against salt water.

My money’s on the ocean.

The enormous Phoenix towers project in Nha Trang will be built out onto the sea creating unpredictable changes to the shoreline.

Already there have been questions raised about the project.

It was discussed by local professional groups, yet how many local businesses actually know what impact it could have on them?

Moreover, how will the project provide sustainable jobs for locals if the project only attracts the super-rich?

Part of the problem is the staggering number of agencies – twenty three, according to my research, national and provincial bodies involved in looking after these issues.

Another aspect is the pressure on local provincial governments to develop their economies, and fast.

This leads to a reluctance to publicize and invite public discussion on major tourism developments.

So what should be done?

Việt Nam’s law on ‘cultural heritage’ covers both the environment and tourism structures and development, yet is weak on mandating public consultation and disclosure of the progress of heritage protection and the actions that agencies will take.

Re-writing and including new sections covering these points would give the law ‘teeth’.

It may also be time for Việt Nam to create a more powerful and effective central agency bringing in all the diverse functions of those twenty three agencies – and scrapping them – to bring focus and a coordinated approach to heritage protection and tourism growth.

Finally, listen to the experts.

Warnings have been sounded again and again regarding these projects.

Vietnamese can’t afford to ignore sound advice as the regional tourism markets are becoming more aggressive in opening their countries via generous visa waivers and savvy promotion.

This doesn’t mean stopping all developments or losing out on economic benefits, simply find better solutions, make projects smaller, legalize sensible limits on coastal development and create new lines of revenue to fund heritage restorations such as Huế City in the central part.

Việt Nam may have decreasing choices on foreign funding for these projects as donors begin to place conditions of funding availability based on visible progress in improving the process of selecting and managing tourism projects.

Already some European nations are asking for this.

Việt Nam’s heritage sites, both historical and natural, are amazing and deserve to be shown to the world.

Yet the process and the decisions made need to be shared by all.

Look at Facebook and you will see millions of Vietnamese visiting the mountains, the coasts and the history of their culture and they are mostly young.

What is the heritage that we should leave for their children?

STIVI COOKE (*)

(*) Stivi Cooke is an Australian expat living in Quảng Nam Province, which houses Hội An Ancient Town, in central Việt Nam

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News

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