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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A Software Plan to Save Angkor Hard Wear

A Software Plan to Save Angkor Hard Wear

SIEM REAP - By the time"Visit Cambodia Year" gets underway in 1996, UNESCO

expects 150,000 tourists a year to be passing through the gateways of the fabled

Angkor Wat temple complex.

That is surely bad news for the temple site, which last December was placed on the

World Heritage List, unless the government quickly moves to enforce restrictions

on tourists clamboring over the temple ruins.

In the meantime, UNESCO along with the cooperation of the Angkor conservation office

in Siem Reap is racing to complete a study using computers to map out a 3,000 square

kilometer area around the Angkor Wat complex stretching from Phnom Kulen to the Tonle

Sap. The ultimate goal of the study, which has drawn data inputs from specialists

in fields as diverse as archaeology and hydrology, is to create a Zoning and Enviromental

Management Plan (ZEMP) for the Angkor area .

To do this, a Geographical Information System (GIS) is being employed. This an innovative

software system developed by the Angkor Foundation of Hungary that is literally a

visual dossier of spatial data from satellite imagery, aerial photographs, maps and

old records.

Richard Engelhardt, head of UNESCO's Phnom Penh office and the driving force behind

the scheme said his colleagues in Paris said he was "crazy" to attempt

to digitize Angkor Wat and its surroundings. "But we did it in six months,"

the representative of the U.N. agency proudly noted.

Englehardt gets animated when talking about ZEMP, which essentially uses the GIS

to zone Angkor and its surrounds in such a way that one can access at a glance high-priority

archaelogical sites and social-economic districts, to name but a couple of the areas

that the ZEMP is intended to protect.

Once a Cambodian authority has been established to implement the various options

that ZEMP will provide, there will be a host of problems waiting to be tackled.

Engelhardt explained that Angkor was probably abandoned "because the water requirements

of the population became too demanding," adding that through ZEMP, "Hydrologists

will be able to restore the authenticity of the Khmer water system" used at

the height of the Khmer empire.

This brilliant mechanism will be enough to serve the current day needs of Siem Reap.

But with the town's population growing at five percent increase each year, the fastest

rate in Cambodia, coupled with the expected tourist boom and proliferation of hotels

pressure on water resources will increase greatly.

It would be an ironic twist if a similar fate befell modern day Angkor. "We

shall have to find ways of capturing more water," he said with the optimism

of a person who believes that pioneering technology can solve all of mankind's problems.

Communication in and around Angkor is actually connected to many of the options that

will have to be examined. For instance, roads leading to the temples, "are in

the wrong place," said Engelhardt. "They were developed according to how

the temples were discovered (by the foreigners) and not how the roads were to a Khmer

in 1150."

He illustrated his point by pointing out that the approach to Angkor Wat should only

be from the Airport route as to slowly see the impressive mausoleum's famous facade

in all its glory. Following the main drag to it now, one's view is masked by trees

lining the roadside. This way lacks anticipation and suspense as the entrance suddenly

comes into sight

Engelhardt noted that by the turn of the century projected figures indicated that

350,000 visitors might come to see Angkor Wat which would mean crowd management could

become a big headache.

He reasoned if each tourist spends an average of two hours inside Angkor Wat at any

time of the day, at least, 250 people would be milling around it.

Staggering the number of visitors allowed into each site; and raising the prices

could help alleviate the situation he proposed.

This is a very important point since the site is a place one leisurely strolls around

meditating on the past.

Engelhart cited the Notre Dame in France, which was built about the same time as

Angkor Wat, saying that one can not find serenity inside the cathederal when surrounded

by the many tourists attracted to it.

"We don't want tourism to undermine Angkor. If tourism grows too fast the end

result will mean the site will be degraded then tourists will stop coming, so it's

essential we keep ahead of the tourist industry," he said.

At presentl, Paul Box, a British GIS consultant in Siem Reap, is in the midst of

training 22-year-old Chrouk Kim Eak how to use the software.

Box is also using the computer as an on-going measure to improve records on the inventory

of art works stored for their safe-keeping at the conservatory. He came up with the

logical idea of mapping out the warehouse by using the computer.

Digitising the contents of the storage room means that one can find out very quickly

if anything is missing. In the future if this happens, customs authorities, police

and museums abroad could be notified within minutes.

Paul Burns, the 21-year-old son of British Ambassador Wally (?) Burns, volunteered

his services for a second summer at UNESCO to help make a video inventory of 20 nearby

sites and the statues and frescos in the warehouse. The time-consuming chore took

the culture and heritage student just over one month to complete as he started in

the middle of each temple and then walked in a clockwise direction, filming as he

went, until he reached the outside.

It will, of course take years to record everything at the Angkor complex temples

but it is a start in the right direction.

The videos will be in the form of a reference library and images will be scanned

into the GIS. In the future, the actual measurements of the temples will be input

so three-dimensional impressions can be used to facilitate the restoration of Angkor.

Earlier this month, UNTAC and UNESCO also sponsored a film made for Cambodian television

to raise public awareness about the illicit traffic in relics.

The film, which was shot on location at Angkor Wat, stars cute 10-year-old Orn Sophea

Rika who plays a school girl who wants to know why the head of a Buddhist image is

missing. Her teacher, Lung Socom, has no idea so she asks a flower-lady, Nu Sondab,

who informs them that bandits have stolen it.

The film is meant to bolster national pride in Khmer heritage and it asks the public

to be on the alert to suspicious activities taking place around the great temples.

The film does not address the reason why the bandits steal, because it is intended

to deter thieves not encourage them.

Engelhardt forsees ZEMP being employed on a world-wide scale as new technology will

facilitate conservationists' efforts everywhere.

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