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Development of a Flood Risk Mitigation Plan for the World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya will be the first World Heritage site in Southeast Asia with a management plan for flood risk mitigation.





In early October 2011, the World Heritage site of Ayutthaya in Thailand and its surrounding area was submerged by major floods for over a month which over 150 historic monuments were affected. The floods occurred at a time when five consecutive storms appeared simultaneously. The water flow rate was twice as high as it normally is, meaning the volume of water was simply too much, and the river banks burst. It took 50 hours for the area to be inundated by 2-3 metres deep of water. The fact that three rivers of Pasak, Lopburi and Chao Phraya are meeting at this point with groundwater and sewage water related issues are also being contributing factors.

In response to the floods, the Thai authorities have undertaken major initiatives in site restoration at the Ayutthaya historic park and in water management in the Chao Phraya River basin.  The recovery effort is still on-going to this day. 

However, there have not been any initiatives aimed specifically at addressing the flood risks threatening the Historic City of Ayutthaya as a cultural heritage site of local, national and global significance. 

“Disaster risk mitigation has been singled out as one of the top priorities for World Heritage protection for the Asia-Pacific region,” said Mr. Gwang–Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Bangkok.

Through a project “Development of a Flood Risk Mitigation Plan for the World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya”, Mr. Kim said this will set an example for other World Heritage sites around the region.

This two-year project will assess the flood risks at the Ayutthaya World Heritage site and then develop a flood risk mitigation plan. The timeframe for the project will be, firstly, sourcing of data and information which will result in preliminary results toward the end of this year, with the entire project being completed by September 2014.

Accordingly to Mr. Zoran Vojinovic, Associate Professor, UNESCO Institute for Water Education, several different scenarios will have been analysed and examined including a historical look at rainfall patterns and land-use (urbanisation), and simulations of future predication, again looking at rainfall patterns and land-use development. Climate change effect which may cause different rainfall pattern will also be considered.

Preliminary results will have been examined by using hydraulic model simulations of both a larger geographical area, and for the localised area of Ayutthaya. The model is also incorporating satellite imagery taken at the time of the flooding itself.

Based on the results, project partners will develop a flood risk mitigation plan together with local stakeholders. International expertise in risk preparedness for cultural heritage conservation will be mobilized in order to guide the development of the flood risk mitigation plan in line with international conservation standards.

The technical execution of the project is led by the UNESCO Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, in close collaboration with UNESCO Bangkok. Project partners include the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute, the Asian Institute of Technology and the Fine Arts Department of Thailand. Specialized expertise will also be invited from International scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. 

The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under its water financing programme.   ADB provides approximately USD $200,000 for this project which economically speaking the benefits for the local communities far outweigh the investment, said Mr. Alfredo Perdiguero, Principal Economist of ADB.

This project was developed following recommendations of the international expert mission to Thailand during the floods in 2011 on the restoration of Ayutthaya Historical Park and cultural monuments in Ayutthaya, organised by Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, in close collaboration with UNESCO Bangkok. Between late November and early December 2011 UNESCO water specialists and experts from Italy, Japan, Netherlands and Thailand came to Ayutthaya to assess the impact to the World Heritage property from the flooding in order to understand the extent of damage and develop further recommendations for a short and long term restoration plan to the Thai Government. 

The historic city of Ayutthaya was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. Founded c. 1350, Ayutthaya was the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendour.

Mr. Tim Curtis, Chief of Culture Unit, UNESCO Bangkok said: “The region is more prone to more intense natural disasters. There have been some major flooding over the past few years in the region, for example, in Pakistan, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Philippines. Earthquakes and fire are also increasing threats, and these indicate that World Heritage sites need to be better prepared to deal with disasters.”

By UNESCO Bangkok