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New UNESCO guidance on heritage impact assessment introduced in Lao PDR

New UNESCO guidance on heritage impact assessment introduced in Lao PDR

6 February 2023, Luang Prabang, Lao PDR — UNESCO Bangkok collaborated with the Lao Department of Heritage to introduce new guidance on assessing heritage in a World Heritage context at a workshop conducted in the Town of Luang Prabang, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994. 

In opening remarks made on behalf of the Department of Heritage, Mr Khamtun Salienkham noted, ‘Heritage assessment is increasingly important in Lao PDR’, as reflected in the recent revision of the Lao Heritage Law.  The revised law now includes new provisions requiring Impact Assessments for any new development projects that might affect historic, cultural or natural heritage. 

The training workshop utilized the new global Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context, published in 2022 by UNESCO and the World Heritage Advisory Bodies.  The training guided participants in identifying the significance of World Heritage as well as other national and local heritage, including intangible cultural heritage. Participants then learned the principles and processes for identifying, assessing and mitigating potential impacts on these heritage values and components. 

Participants in the event

‘It’s great to have the participants understand how to balance proposed development with conservation in areas of heritage significance,’ said Ms Julie van den Bergh, former Chief Technical Advisor of UNESCO’s long-running project at the Plain of Jars who served as an expert trainer for the workshop.

Heritage officials from all three World Heritage properties in Lao PDR (Luang Prabang, the Plain of Jars and Vat Phou Champasak) took part in the workshop, along with relevant line agencies at both national and local levels in charge of environment, public works, planning and investment, and energy and mines. 

Deputy Director of the Luang Prabang World Heritage Office, Mr Souvalith Phompadith, commented, ‘As a person working on managing World Heritage in Luang Prabang, I found it interesting to learn that when there are projects like new constructions, you need to inquire for many experts’ opinions. The course will help me to screen future projects that may affect Luang Prabang.’  

The workshop was undertaken as part of a project providing technical assistance for Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) in Lao PDR supported by the World Heritage Fund. The workshop follows upon a successful national consultation meeting held in Vientiane in November 2022, which reviewed a national roadmap for strengthening heritage impact assessments. The national consultation was co-chaired by the Director General of the Lao PDR Heritage Department and the UN Resident Coordinator for Lao PDR, and facilitated by the Lao National Commission for UNESCO. The consultation resulted in a call for strengthening the requirements for HIA in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) legislation, and for developing technical guidance to operationalize the new HIA provisions in the revised Lao PDR Heritage Law.

Participants in the event

There are currently a number of projects proposed in the vicinity of various World Heritage properties in Lao PDR, including hydropower projects near Luang Prabang and Vat Phou. According to the World Heritage Operational Guidelines, heritage impact assessments are required before such projects can proceed, thus ensuring the sustainable safeguarding of the Outstanding Universal Value and other heritage that is significant at both national and local levels.

One of the World Heritage Committee’s recurring concerns when reviewing the state of conservation of properties is considering potential impacts of projects on the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage properties. Balancing development needs, the well-being of communities and the protection of heritage can be challenging. New tools such as the new HIA toolkit could help States Parties to the World Heritage Convention fulfil their duties to the highest possible standards.

For further information, and to access the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context, visit https://whc.unesco.org/en/guidance-toolkit-impact-assessments/

A Lao translation of the toolkit, currently available in English and French, is being prepared with support from UNDP, under the global Poverty Environment Action for SDGs programme conducted in conjunction with UNEP.

For more information, contact: Gregory Galligan, Public Information and Outreach (PIO), UNESCO Bangkok: g.galligan(at)unesco.org

Photo credits: UNESCO/Montira Horayangura Unakul and Kamonrat Chayamarit