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Unesco may downgrade Makli necropolis status

October 06, 2011

The Makli necropolis. – Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The Makli necropolis, one of the largest graveyards in the Muslim world and also a Unesco world heritage site, might be included in the list of endangered monuments if immediate restoration work is not initiated, it emerged on Wednesday.

If this happens, the Makli necropolis will be third such world heritage site (the other two being Lahore Fort and Shalamar Gardens) in the country to be declared endangered for not being maintained properly.

In all, Pakistan has eight places that are historically and culturally important from a global perspective (the world heritage sites), which are Taxila, Takht Bhai, Sri Behlol, Lahore Fort, Shalamar Gardens, Rohtas Fort, Moenjodaro and Makli.

Sources said that a two-member team of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) was expected to visit Pakistan in November to evaluate the progress the country had made following last year recommendations by Unesco.

However, the Sindh culture secretary said that most of the recommendations would have been implemented by the time the international evaluators would arrive.

Situated at a distance of around 100 kilometres from Karachi, the Makli necropolis with over half a million graves is spread over an area of six square miles.

It showcases 400 years of Sindh history — between the 14th and 18th centuries — the Sama period (1340AD to 1520AD), the Arghuns (1520-1555), the Turkhans (1555-1592) and the Mughals (1592-1739).

It was during the visit of a Unesco team in the wake of last year floods and subsequent damage to the necropolis that the country was suggested to take certain steps to improve its condition.

While little progress had been made in this regard, conservationists apprehended that the Makli necropolis might be downgraded and put on the Unesco list of endangered monuments. This would put the country in an embarrassing situation internationally, they added.

The sources said that a large number of flood victims had stayed at the monuments of the Makli necropolis last year. Being unaware of the historical importance of the necropolis, many of them spoiled the beauty of the monuments while the few archaeological department staffers deputed there could not manage the crowd. The sources added that when Unesco came to know about the floods and the damage the necropolis faced, a two-member team of Unesco and ICOMOS representatives was constituted and sent to Sindh to evaluate the situation.

They said that after receiving a report from the team, Unesco in a communication to Pakistan regretted that “little progress has been made towards implementation of the World Heritage Committee decisions and that no information has been provided concerning ongoing conservation works including repair works to pavilions, monuments and tombs”.

The sources added that Unesco also expressed concern over serious degradation of the necropolis aggravated by the floods and the lack of preparation for emergency actions, including lack of security measures to protect the site. It urged Pakistan to develop an emergency action plan for the security and stabilisation of the structures and to implement it.

It asked the government to adopt a master plan and develop a management plan. It also called for taking appropriate steps to stabilise the Tomb of Jam Nizamuddin specifically.

Unesco also requested the government that the world heritage site boundaries be defined and a proposal for the establishment of a buffer zone be filed so that it could be considered and approved by the world heritage committee.

Besides, the sources said, Unesco wanted that a joint team of world heritage centre and ICOMOS representatives be sent on a joint reactive monitoring mission to the site to review the state of conservation there and progress on these issues and to help Pakistan prepare the post-flood emergency and conservation action plan.

The Unesco communiqué stated that Pakistan submit a detailed report on the state of conservation of the site, including progress on the issues and the recommendations of the 2006 joint world heritage centre and ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission, by Feb 1, 2012.

The sources said that the two-member team of Unesco and ICOMOS was expected to visit Pakistan in November this year to review what had been done to improve the situation at the site and whether the recommendations forwarded by Unesco had been implemented.

They added that the detailed report to be submitted by Pakistan would be examined by the world heritage committee at its 36th session in 2012, with a view to “considering in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to the outstanding universal value, the possible inscription of the Makli necropolis on the world heritage in danger.”

It is worth noting here that previously, the Lahore Fort was included in the Unesco list of endangered monuments after frequent political functions and social gatherings organised in the fort had defaced the site, while the centuries-old water works of the Shalamar Gardens was damaged during a road widening project.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sindh Culture Secretary Aziz Uquaily said that measures suggested by Unesco were being adopted and by the time the international evaluators would come most of their recommendations would have been implemented.

He said that Makli was one of the most important historical and heritage sites in the country and all steps would be taken to ensure that the site was well protected and that it retained its place on the list of world heritage sites and was not listed as endangered.

He said that as suggested by Unesco, work was in progress on the disaster management plan and master plan of the Makli necropolis. Efforts were also being made to arrange the funding as well.

By the time, the Unesco team would come sufficient work on their recommendations / suggestions would have been completed, he reiterated. He was optimistic that they would be satisfied with the progress and the Makli necropolis would not be included in the list of endangered sites.

Accompanying photo gallery by Hussain Afzal/

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