World Monument Day was celebrated last week amid growing concerns that heritage sites around the globe face perilous and uncertain future due to rising sea levels and other damaging effects of climate change.
According to experts, several of UNESCO world heritage sites and monuments are under severe threat of coastal erosion and floods as a result of rising sea levels.
“Unless urgent actions are taken, the impact of those historical icons would be significant,” said Dr. Purity Kiura who is in charge of the National Museum of Kenya (NMK) directorate of antiquities, sites and monuments.
Dr. Kiura said strong tidal waves caused by a warming planet are putting iconic and historical sites across Kenya’s coastline at great risk.
She noted that heritage sites and landmarks like the Fort Jesus, Vasco Da Gama Pillar, the Old British Customs House, Taqwa ruins and the Jumba La Mtwana are all at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion.
Dr. Kiura contend that NMK whose key role is to collect, preserve, study document and present Kenya’s past and present cultural and heritage is doing everything possible to fortify the historical and cultural edifices, along the coastline to ensure they are not washed away and preserved for the sake of posterity,
“The entire historical and cultural sites along the shoreline enlisted by Unesco for their outstanding universal value now face perilous and uncertain future due to rising sea levels,” she said during an interview with KNA Friday.
She expressed concern that rising seas fueled by melting glaciers and ice caps threaten to swallow the coastal landmarks and highlighted the losses to the tourism industry should the sites fall victim to a warming planet.
The NMK official said the historical sites which are also the country’s greatest tourist attractions are under threat from coastal erosion that is chipping away at platforms that have supported them for hundreds of years.
“Climate change is here with us and affecting world heritage and iconic sites and Kenya is no exception,” said Dr. Kiura who called for more resources to shield the heritage properties from falling into permanent ruin.
The national government moved with speed and provided funds to NMK to construct a seawall to protect the foundation of the historical Fort Jesus Museum.
The Sh490 million wall whose construction is due for completion in July 2019, is being erected to prevent sea waters from reaching the museum’s foundation whose cliff on which the fort stands was slowly being eroded.
Dr. Kiura made an appeal for more support that to stabilize and fortify other historical and cultural treasure troves in coast region.
During his recent visit to Lamu County, NMK Director General Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia said they have embarked on the preservation of at least 100 monuments and historical significant sites that are worthy of protection across the country at a cost of Sh2 billion.
Dr. Kibunjia said each of the 47 counties will have at least two monuments in the preservation and protection of local heritage and enhance social cohesion and integration.
He said the process of identifying the sites has started and the national government has been requested to provide the required funds to develop the monuments.
He said NMK will liaise with communities and other stakeholders in the identification of monuments that are worthy of preservation, based on the criteria that they are of historic, cultural and are of symbolic significance and national importance.
“We intend to approach our traditional development partners to support this noble project that also seeks to promote public interest and awareness in sites and monuments,” said the NMK boss whose contract at the helm of the state corporation was in January extended for another three years.
He said beside preserving national heritage, the monuments will serve as research centres to study and document cultural and local values that bring people together and promote social cohesion and values.
“The monuments are expected to spur research so as to enhance their contribution to tourism, social cohesion, identity and economic empowerment,” he said.
He further said that the monuments will encourage Kenyans to visit other parts of the country and as a result promote local tourism which has lately showed significant improvement.
We must explore strategies to get Kenyans embrace the culture of travelling around their country and sample attraction sites, added Dr. Kibunjia.
He went on, “there is need for Kenyans to reflect and appreciate the rich cultural heritage sites across the country instead of leaving it only to be frequented by international tourists.”
Dr. Kibunjia said NMK will work with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology to establish innovation hubs in all the monuments to enable the public to easily access information through free, speedy and reliable internet.
This, he said was geared towards helping the youth to harness their talents in the use of ICT and develop music, drama and other contents for commercial purposes as ‘ICT speeds up social economic development.’
At the same time, Dr. Kibunjia expressed concern that the rich and colourful history of Lamu town which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 was under threat due to unplanned developments.
He said the rich heritage of Lamu town which dates back to the 7th century must be preserved and protected for posterity.
Lamu town has been listed on the World Monument Fund Watch List as being under threat from nature and modernity.
By Mohamed Hassan