A recent international conference brought to light the pressing need to protect the monuments which represent some of mankind's most powerful achievements. At the root of the issue are the causes of wear and tear -- both natural and human -- which must be addressed before irreparable damage is done. CHOMPOO TRAKULLERTSATHIEN reports.
Wat Chai Wattanaram in Thailand, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia, Mohenjodaro of Pakistan, the Taj Mahal in India -- will these monuments be seen in the same light as in their own times?
Threatened by both natural and by human causes, the now dilapidated monuments no longer stand as proudly as they once did.
Recently, an international conference was held to discuss the plight of Asia's greatest historical sites. "The Future of Asia's Past: Preservation of the Architectural Heritage of Asia" was sponsored by the Asia Society, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Siam Society, and included Asian government officials and policy makers, economists, conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, architects, tour operators, and real estate developers from different countries.
Participants discussed ways to preserve architectural monuments and exchanged information on various historical sites.
"Architectural heritage must be preserved for future generations, as it will help them to understand and appreciate their national and cutural identities," said panelist Prof M C Subhadradis Diskul, Director Emeritus of the SEAMEO Regional Center for Ar chitecture and Fine Arts.
Many old monuments in Thailand are currently under the department's supervision for restoration plans, but there is still a large number of monuments being neglected, said the professor.
"The main problem with restoration efforts is funding; the budget which is channeled through the Government is not enough to finance all the monuments in the country," he explained.
"The remaining allocations each year are called back if the restoration project is not finished -- and allocations for the next year are reduced," he added.
However, there are other efforts in Thailand to keep traditional architecture alive, he said. For example, the Thai government has agreed to construct future government office buildings in more traditional styles even though the cost will be slightly hi gher.
The experiences of neighbouring countries are similar. The Cambodian cultural heritage, for instance, is in urgent need of assistance, according to Michel Tranet, Undersecretary of State of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
"The best way of preserving the Khmer culture is with suitable and modern education. There is a great need for technical and financial foreign assistance as well as international support," said Tranet.
"The sculptures at Angkor Wat are deteriorating -- a row of Buddha images without heads is an example. The monument was registered in the World Heritage List of sites in peril in 1992," he added.
In Indonesia, chemical treatments are used to eradicate microbiological growth in Borobudur, one of the seven wonders of the world. There are examinations of the site periodically, and international experts meet every three to four years to evaluate ma intenance and investigate the progress of the work.
As for Pakistan, the preservation efforts have been focused on Mohenjodaro, a monument on UNESCO's World Heritage list, according to Dr Mohammad Rafique Mughal, Director General of the Department of Archaeology and Museums.
The structure shows signs of severe surface decay such as spilling, crumbling, powdering of bricks and structural distress such as loosening and dislodging of top courses of bricks and the cracking of walls.
According to Dr Mughal, conservation plans include the isolation of structural remains from migrating salts, consolidation of decayed parts, desalination of surviving structures, provision of drainage for rain water, construction of approach paths in th e streets, and landscaping of the site.
The Taj Mahal, also recognised as a World Heritage site, is undergoing its share of deterioration.
According to Dev Mehta, Metropolitan Commissioner of the Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority, the Taj Mahal has been suffering from the eroding effect of the river Jamuna, dust particle abrasion, and air pollution from the Mathura Refinery.
The effect has been a "marble cancer", said Mr Mehta, a discolouration of the landmark's white marble.
"India's planners and the political leadership have done little with the site. In their opinion, an oil refinery and iron foundaries are far more important to the Indian Republic than a mere tomb," Mehta said.
"The future of our cultural heritage depends entirely on reestablishing its relevance to our contemporary lives. And this is an enormous task beyond the reach of any single party. Therefore, conservation-oriented actions by these people from all walks o f life can counter the current pace of deterioration of the heritage fabric of historic settlments," summed up Nimish Patel, a partner in an Indian architectural firm which focuses on the conservation of historic settlements.