Two severe earthquakes hit Nepal on 25 April and 12 May 2015. Thousands of people lost their lives. Apart from the humanitarian disaster, the earthquakes also had a devastating impact on human cultural heritage. Numerous buildings of historical importance in Nepal were partly or completely destroyed, and a great many houses and temples collapsed and cannot be rebuilt. Since 1979 the architectural legacy of Kathmandu Valley has been a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and even before the most recent earthquakes was greatly endangered by the population explosion, environmental problems, climate change, fires, and earlier earthquakes. From 2003 to 2007 Kathmandu Valley was on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Immediately after the earthquake on 25 April 2015 the German Federal Foreign Office and Gerda Henkel Foundation decided to pool their resources to preserve and restore the cultural heritage of Nepal. The initiative aims to supplement humanitarian aid with measures that strengthen the country’s cultural identity. There is a very strong connection between the population and cultural heritage in Nepal; in many villages individual families tend to the local temple and integrate the temple’s gods into their everyday lives. There is a tradition of good relations between Nepal and Germany as regards cultural preservation. In the 1970s German architects, engineers, scientists and conservationists were the first members of a foreign state to begin restoring the cultural monuments damaged by the severe earthquake in 1934. In subsequent years, a great many projects were initiated. For example, in keeping with the promise German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made during a state visit in 1987, a temple lost in Bhaktapur in 1934 was reconstructed. It survived the quake of 2015 undamaged.
It is also thanks to this long and excellent collaboration that Nepal has a pool of well-trained and highly talented workers and many other specialists available for reconstruction and restoration projects. Accordingly, all the projects are developed in close dialogue with partners in Nepal and largely realized by local experts. Given the sheer extent of the work, there is a focus on training additional craft workers, specialists and academics. Aside from the efforts made to provide an income for many people in Nepal by employing them in cultural preservation projects in the medium term, the partners would also like to help restore the tourism sector, which is so vitally important for the country’s economy.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Niels Gutschow