Stone Town’s listing as a World Heritage Site proves its fascinating heritage and value to the people of the world. A site this important must be maintained, preserved and cared for. Unfortunately, there are many threats to the proper preservation and maintenance of Stone Town. Recently, in October 2012, the House of Wonders, one of Zanzibar’s most important heritage buildings, experienced a major collapse. Threats can be any of the following:
Zanzibar’s growing economy and Stone Town’s attraction to tourists has many positive aspects. However, the resultant growing development puts a great deal of pressure on the buildings and environment of Stone Town. Increasing traffic is increasing demand for new parking areas within Stone Town. Sites of collapsed buildings are in danger of being used as parking areas. Furthermore the construction of new buildings, especially hotels, is a threat for Stone Town’s unique appearance. The new houses could rise above the generally uniform height of the surrounding buildings, eroding the integrity the city’s traditional face. In this regard decisions about transport and urban development have a strong effect on the appearance of Stone Town and need to be made carefully. A lack of support from the government is one of the biggest issues, because the preservation can only be successful if there is enough money available. For this reason the Heritage Society has to carry out lobbyist activities, to make sure that the preservation of Stone Town is taken into account in decisions about the city development.
Stone Town’s buildings are built with many traditional materials. While these materials are both more sustainable and more appropriate to the environment of Zanzibar, they are affected by environmental degradation. Rain makes the render peel away from walls, exposing the coral stone to the elements. The water weakens the lime mortar or washes it away. This can lead to the collapse of coral-stone buildings. The more recent phenomenon of global warming is another environmental. Through rising sea levels, all the buildings on the waterfront are in great danger. The rise in the sea water’s temperature can change the climate and influence the weather and environment. The only thing the Heritage Society can do about this problem is to maintain and restore the old houses, so that they can brave the elements in the future.
Lack of Awareness and Support
One issue the Heritage Society is working on constantly is awareness creation. Stone Town residents need to be informed about the outstanding value of our heritage for the entire world. If the people can understand the value of their house, they have more motivation to maintain it. Above all to save Stone Town resources, training and qualified personnel is needed. Also traditional materials and craftsmen need to be available. This is a great challenge, because the traditional material is limited and sometimes of inferior quality. Furthermore the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society needs funds to ensure the preservation works on Stone Town houses, which will save the heritage for future generations. These can only be granted by the government or by private donors.
What Can You Do?
You can help to keep the Heritage site clean, to maintain the houses and to inform your family and friends about the value of the World Heritage for their daily life. Also, you can donate to the ZSTHS, to help us create more restoration and training opportunities in Stone Town. A little help can go a long way.