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FACT CHECK: Luang Prabang is still a UNESCO World Heritage site

Jonathan Meadley

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FACT CHECK: Luang Prabang is still a UNESCO World Heritage site
The Lao government says a Thai YouTuber’s claim that Luang Prabang is going to lose its World Heritage status is ‘unfounded’

Claim: Luang Prabang in Laos is going to lose its status as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site over concerns related to the Luang Prabang Hydropower Project.

Rating: FALSE

Why we fact-checked this: A Thai YouTuber made the claim in a video posted on his channel in December. A similar video was uploaded on December 20, 2023, with the title, “Lao crisis: UNESCO removes Luang Prabang from World Heritage status.” As of writing, it has 49,195 views, 1,100 likes, and 140 comments. 

Luang Prabang, one of Laos’ primary attractions, is known for its preservation of cultural and historic sites. False allegations about its removal from the World Heritage Sites list could potentially impact the town’s tourism prospects.

The facts: Phakhanxay Sikhanxay, director general of the Heritage Department within Laos’ Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, issued a statement on December 22, 2023, debunking the “unfounded” claim. 

“We have not received any information or official document from UNESCO concerning the removal of Luang Prabang from the World Heritage list,” he said, adding that UNESCO has praised the exceptional preservation efforts on the site.

According to Phakhanxay, the misleading information was intended to sow confusion among locals and foreigners by using exaggerated video titles suggesting the removal of Luang Prabang’s World Heritage status. The actual content of the video merely highlights issues raised by UNESCO in an earlier report.

Heritage status concerns: The allegations surfaced following the UNESCO report in March 2023 expressing concerns about the Luang Prabang Hydropower Project and its potential negative impact on the town’s heritage sites. The report stressed the need for a Heritage Impact Assessment to ensure that the project will not pose a threat to the site’s “outstanding universal value.”

While Luang Prabang remains on the heritage list with no imminent delisting warnings, some concerns persist.

Minja Yang, former deputy director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, voiced fear over how the dam could “transform the historic riverside town into a lakeside one,” according to Nikkei Asia.

“If the second dam is indeed constructed, I believe Luang Prabang should be delisted,” Yang said.

World Heritage list: The town of Luang Prabang, located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region and built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and Nam Khan River, was inscribed on the World Heritage List on December 9, 1995. The town earned its spot on the list thanks to its unique and “remarkably well-preserved townscape” blending traditional architecture with those built by European colonial authorities. 

The delisting of a site from UNESCO’s World Heritage list is based on the status of the preservation of the site and its maintenance. If the World Heritage Center has concerns about a site, it will inform the government to address the issue and, if needed, place the site on the list of World Heritage resources in danger. The site will be removed from the World Heritage list if the issues are not resolved. – Rappler.com

Jonathan Meadley is a #FactsMatter Journalism Fellow for 2023-2024

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