siem reap town – There was a time when the technical meetings of the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor focused on monument restoration.
Since those days in the 1990s, Angkor has proven itself one of Cambodia’s biggest money-making enterprises; hotels have multiplied in Siem Reap town, and 2 million tourists are expected in the park the year.
As a result, the ICC technical meeting June 4 and 5 in Siem Reap town was longer than previous ones. And the process was somewhat more formal than in the past, even though no decisions were made—that will have to wait until the ICC’s plenary sessions at the end of each year.
Moreover, the topics addressed by the ICC last week went beyond the park’s boundaries; half a day was spent on economic development issues and on pollution and water problems that are exacerbated by the influx of visitors to Angkor and Siem Reap town.
Co-chaired by France and Japan, the ICC includes countries involved in projects at Angkor and the Apsara Authority, the government agency in charge of the park.
Reports from India’s teams working at Ta Prohm—one of Angkor’s most popular temples—mirrored the combination of challenges that restoration teams face.
Their studies included a health overview on 129 trees, as Ta Prohm, as well as the trees, must be protected for the site to retain its temple-in-the-wilderness appeal.
There was also a study on tourist traffic at the temple, as visits must be interesting and safe when visitors walk among the monument’s crumbling stones and giant tree roots. Another study addressed management of rainwater and drainage at Ta Prohm.
Participants agreed that water is one of Angkor’s and Siem Reap’s major problems—from the town’s growing wastewater problem, the disposal of which remains to be resolved, to rain damage to monuments.
“Water [availability] depends on forest coverage,” said Tan Boun Suy, demography and development director for the Apsara Authority. Deforestation at Phnom Kulen is now affecting Siem Reap town’s water resources, he said.
Jean-Baptiste Chevance of the London-based foundation Archeology and Development, who submitted a project for the restoration of monuments on Phnom Kulen, also mentioned that logging and nonregulated tourism on the mountain were damaging the environment and historical structures.
The simple act of clearing around stones may affect them, said Marie-Francoise Andre of the French Universite Blaise Pascal.
A study at Ta Keo temple has shown that wall carvings deteriorated faster when they were no longer protected from the elements by trees, she said. This should be taken into consideration before clearing around intricate carvings, she added.
The large number of tourists to Siem Reap town and Angkor is also introducing air-quality problems.
Tourists visiting Phnom Bakheng, a hilltop temple where thousands flock daily to watch the sunset, arrive in all manners of vehicles, and the air in the area has become the most polluted in the park, said Shinji Tsukawaki of Kanazawa University in Japan.
The large amount of traffic has also made dust clouds a permanent feature in the Angkor park even though large tour buses are no longer allowed entry to the area.
Participants at the meeting agreed to recommend at the ICC plenary session the creation of an environmental observatory to monitor changes in the Angkor park and Siem Reap town.
They also plan to recommend that teams working on water issues at the park share their data. In addition to Japan, France and India’s involvement in water-related projects, the Asian Development Bank and the European Commission have contributed to water treatment, pollution control and drainage programs in Siem Reap town, according to a document distributed at the meeting.
Janos Jelen of Hungary’s Royal Angkor Foundation also appealed to the “Goliaths” at Angkor—the organizations that have accumulated a gigantic amount of knowledge on Angkor such as the Japanese teams and France’s Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient—to share information with smaller country teams.
Jelen submitted a project for an archeological survey of Koh Ker, the 10th-century capital of King Jayavarman IV, which is located 80 km north of Siem Reap in Preah Vihear province.
Other reports at the ICC included ongoing work at Angkor’s most popular locations, such as the Bayon, Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng.