World Heritage sites in danger of collapse owing to climate change

Tombs at Siyu in Lamu County. [File, Standard]
Several world heritage sites and monuments at the Coast face an uncertain future due to climate change and rising sea levels, experts have said.

“Unless urgent measures are taken, these historical icons are at a great risk,” said Purity Kiura, who is in charge of the Directorate of Antiquities, Sites and Monuments at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).

Dr Kiura, who spoke after celebrations to mark the International Day for Monuments and Sites, said several United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) sites and monuments faced severe threat of erosion and floods as a result of rising sea levels.

The International Day for Monuments and Sites, as proposed in 1982, "aims at promoting awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage of humanity, their vulnerability and the efforts required for their protection and conservation”.

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Tidal waves

Kiura said strong tidal waves caused by a warming planet put the sites at a major risk.

She said sites and landmarks such as Fort Jesus, Vasco da Gama Pillar, the Old British Customs House, Taqwa Ruins and Jumba La Mtwana were all at risk of being lost to the sea because of erosion on the coastline.

Kiura said NMK, whose main mandate is to collect, preserve, document and present Kenya’s past and present cultural heritage, was doing everything possible to fortify the historical and cultural edifices in the region.

“We want to ensure they are not washed away and that they are preserved for posterity. All historical and cultural sites along the shoreline listed by Unesco for their outstanding universal value now face perilous and uncertain future due to rising sea levels. But we are also determined to save them,” said Kiura.

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She added: “The rising sea levels fueled by melting glaciers and ice caps threaten to swallow the coastal landmarks, which will be a major loss to the tourism industry should the sites be affected.”

Kiura said the sites, which are among the greatest tourism attractions in the region, had been chipping away and several platforms that had supported them for hundreds of years were getting weakened.

“Climate change is here with us. It is affecting world heritage sites and Kenya is not exception,” said Kiura. She called on the Government and other organisations to channel resources towards fighting effects of climatic change so the sites are not ruined.

The national government had given NMK funds to construct a seawall to protect the foundation of the historical Fort Jesus Museums.

The Sh490 million wall, whose construction is due for completion in July, will prevent sea waters from reaching the museum’s foundation, whose cliff is slowly being eroded.

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During a recent visit to Lamu County, NMK Director General Mzalendo Kibunjia said they had embarked on the preservation of at least 100 monuments and historical sites at a cost of Sh2 billion.

Dr Kibunjia said each county would have at least two monuments to help preserve local heritage.

“We intend to approach our development partners to support this noble project that also seeks to promote public interest in these sites and monuments,” said Kibunjia.

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CoastClimate ChangeWorld Heritage sitesNational Museums of Kenya