Vulnerable heritage

February 25, 2024

Climate change is posing a threat to the cultural history of Swat

Vulnerable  heritage


wat’s iconic Buddhist cultural and heritage sites have survived for over two thousand years but are now at risk due to climate change impacts. Rising temperatures, floods, rains and extreme weather conditions pose a threat to these centuries-old historical sites in the picturesque valley.

Climate change is a major threat to the cultural history of the city. Heritage sites are vulnerable to floods and rain.

Swat is known as the Switzerland of Pakistan because of its snow-capped mountains and beautiful scenery. Historians and scholars argue that the modern name of Swat is derived from Suvastu, the Sanskrit name given by early Aryans to its majestic river, meaning a good dwelling place.

According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development Project, the 2022 floods and heavy rains damaged at least 14 heritage sites in the province out of which 10 were situated in or around Swat. These sites included Shinashah Stupa, Amlukdara complex, Abasahib Cheena, Shingardar Stupa, Gumbatona site, Thokardara site, Butkara site, Barikot Bazira site, the Kalam Mosque and the Swat Museum storeroom.

The cultural and heritage sites of Swat are in need of government attention. The Directorate of Archeology was allotted funds for renovation of these sites only recently.

The World Bank’s KITE project has offered Rs 464 million for the repair of flood damage at the archaeological sites.

The 2022 flood damage at heritage sites was estimated at Rs 800 million. The floods not only damaged the heritage and cultural sites in Swat, damage was also reported in Mardan and DI Khan divisions. In Mardan, Jamal Ghari and Therelli sites, Southern and Nothern Kafirkot, Lal Mahra and Rahman Dheri sites were also damaged during the floods.

“Rainwater easily enters these sites because they’re usually below the ground level. Due to technical faults in the excavation, there is no rainwater drainage system at these sites. Proper rainwater drainage can reduce the damage

In September 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Pakistan. During his three-day visit, the UNESCO announced the mobilisation of an emergency amount of $350,000 to help restore flood-damaged cultural heritage sites.

Usman Ulasyar is a cultural and heritage activist and chairman of the Suvastu Arts and Culture Association, a cultural organisation for preserving and promoting art and culture in Swat. He says rains and climate change-induced events have impacted every sector of life including archaeological sites in Swat.

“The Saidu Sharif Stupa was recently repaired under the supervision of an Italian Archeological Mission but the heavy rains damaged the structure of the historic stupa,” he says.

The Saidu Sharif Stupa is situated at the foot of the Hindukush mountains. It is a Buddhist sanctuary situated at the bottom of a steep valley. Usman Ulasyar aments that heritage sites were neglected during the previous government.

“Rainwater easily enters these sites because they’re below the ground level. Due to technical faults in the excavation, there is no rainwater drainage from these sites. Proper rainwater drainage can reduce the damage,” Ulasyar suggests.

Dr Abdul Samad, the Archaeology and Museums director, says heritage sites cannot be protected from natural disasters. “We can only take basic preservation measures,” he says.

The writer is a freelance multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

Vulnerable heritage