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Lao-UNESCO Programme for "Safeguarding the Plain of Jars "

In 1998, Xieng Khouang Province, UNESCO and the Government of Lao PDR initiated a multi-year phased programme to safeguard and develop the Plain of Jars. The goal of this Lao-UNESCO Programme for Safeguarding the Plain of Jars is to put mechanisms in place that ensure ongoing protection of the heritage resources linked to bringing socio-economic benefits for the local communities.

UXO clearance © UNESCO Bangkok

Background

The Xieng Khouang Plateau was subjected to intense carpet bombing during the regional conflict in Indochina of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. During the bombing, many jar field sites, particularly those in prominent exposed locations, were extensively damaged. Un-detonated bombs, land mines and other unexploded military ordnance still contaminate more than 25% of the province's total land area and continue to threaten the lives of the 200,000 people who now live in Xieng Khouang. This ordnance remains a constant threat to personal safety and a serious impediment to the socio-economic development of the region.

Bomb craters © UNESCO Bangkok

However, there has been very strong growth in the Lao tourism sector since 1990. Tourism is now a major contributor to national income and employment. The major tourism activities in the province now include the exploration of jar sites as well as visits to both local ethnic minority villages and historic sites associated with the Indochina wars.

For much of the last century Laos was in a continual state of war and archaeological research and conservation in the Plain of Jars was impossible. The cessation of conflict and the opening up of the country to the outside world has revealed the great importance of the site as well as the problems it faces, including:

  • Lack of documentation and national expertise;
  • Infestation with Unexploded Ordnance (UXO);
  • Increasing threats of looting and inappropriate development;
  • Underdeveloped national and local capacity to undertake the required technical and managerial work to safeguard the site.

Soil erosion / © UNESCO Bangkok

Example of inappropriate tourist behaviour / © UNESCO Bangkok

UXO display in a Phonesavan guesthouse / © UNESCO Bangkok