Sustainable Development and Heritage Preservation

Heritage Watch launched an innovative project of heritage protection and poverty reduction at one of Southeast Asia’s largest temple complexes, the ancient Khmer capital of Koh Ker in 2007. This tenth century site, home to dozens of magnificent temples, was isolated for much of the last century by war, landmines, and poor roads. But due to recent demining efforts and improved roads, Koh Ker is now poised to become a major tourist destination.

Through the project, Heritage Watch promoted the protection of the temple complex while providing a sustainable development strategy. These people are among the poorest in Cambodia, barely eking out a living through subsistence farming and forest scavenging. Furthermore, a large percentage are disabled landmine victims. This poverty has naturally exacerbated looting at Koh Ker, which was heavily plundered in the 1990s. However, much of this remarkable site is still intact, and its future protection hinges on the local community being able to benefit from the coming economic boom.

Heritage Watch provided training in heritage protection and conservation for the local community, organizing and equipping community patrols to protect the temples from looting. Heritage Watch established a baseline survey of past looting at the temples, and using this, recent thefts can easily be detected. These patrols were provided with training in basic environmental management, and can pick up litter, empty trash bins, et cetera.

Training in tourism at a basic level was also provided, so that the villagers could establish sustainable businesses near the temples—such as refreshment stands, oxcart tours of the site, and traditional craft sales. Village women and the disabled will be trained in the production of these crafts, thus providing for some of the most disadvantaged groups in the community.

Income was generated by the villagers through the sale of craft goods, ox-cart rides, and other products. Perhaps most importantly, this project illustrated to the entirety of Cambodia that protecting heritage is more financially advantageous than destroying it. Heritage Watch would like to thank Friends of Khmer Culture, Pepy Ride, the Fonds Famille vanBeek, Lonely Planet and our private donors for their generous contributions to this project.
"The looting of prehistoric sites across Cambodia has reached epic proportions..."

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