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Six Months After Nepal Earthquake: Residents Grateful for Restoration of UNESCO Heritage Sites

For the people of Nepal, healing from the devastating earthquake will take time. Thousands were killed, villages were left in shambles and resulting landslides stretched the country's resiliency for weeks.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Kathmandu, Nepal's capital on April 25. Just weeks later as rebuilding efforts were ongoing, the strongest aftershock, a 7.3-magnitude quake, struck less than 50 miles from the initial epicenter.

Among the homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed in Kathmandu, several UNESCO Heritage Sites were damaged, some shaken down to the foundation.

For a country where the majority of the population practice Hinduism, followed by Buddhism, the historic sites represent more than just a symbol of the country's culture.

"Damage on the major heritage sites has had a deep mental impact on Nepalese people," Ashish Chaulagain, the volunteer operation representative for ShelterBox UK, said.

Chaulagain has been working in the region since the earthquake for ShelterBox, an organization that provides emergency shelter and supplies to communities in need.

The sites are an integral place of worship, connecting the present to the past.

"Now with the damage of these heritage [sites], fear occupied the mind of many city dwellers as [this was] not only their home but their place of faith [which] was in peril," Chaulagain said.

In early October, UNESCO and Nepal's Department of Archaeology signed an agreement to restore three major sites.

In addition to religious importance, the sites are vital for Nepal's tourism industry, a key source of income for the country. Locals are known to sell handmade materials and items in the busy areas around the sites. With a drop in tourists due to the crumbled sites, people were worried.

But now, Chaulagain said, the recent reconstruction efforts have given people a sense of relief. While impatient for the sites to be restored, they want to see the sites "standing tall."

Robin Coningham, a UNESCO professor in archaeological ethics and practice in cultural heritage at Durham University, is just one of the people responsible for properly restoring the sites.

"When this opportunity was first being discussed with the Government of Nepal and UNESCO, I was aware that rescue archaeology could offer a real insight into the historic development of the monuments and thus feed into the reconstruction process," Coningham said.

With a team comprised of archaeologists and engineers, the group is working on the Char Naryan Temple in Patan, the Kasthamandap in Hanuman Dhoka and the stone Vastala temple at Bhaktapur.

All three collapsed during the earthquake. The foundations are all that were left intact at each site. The oldest structure dates back to the 12th century, a little under 1,000 years ago.

Previous earthquakes have caused similar damage, most notably in the 1930s. However, the attitude has always been to rebuild and move on, not to let the fear of another earthquake prevent any growth.

"It will be impossible to prevent such disasters in the future, but stronger building controls and also greater maintenance will assist the longevity of the rebuilt structures," Coningham said.

Coningham's team is on a six-week contract. Once they are done, the Nepalese government will take over with continued support from UNESCO and other donors.

In addition to the complete rebuilding efforts, UNESCO said the project will also assist in the creation with "a systematic database and inventory of monuments, showing their state of conservation before the earthquakes and damage and repair after."

Statues, carved wooden beams, paintings, votive objects and other architectural features from collapsed monuments will be inventoried and protected, UNESCO said in a press release.