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Mohenjo Daro

Fragile Mohenjo Daro threatened by festival plans

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Dating back at least 5,000 years, Mohenjo Daro, which is located in what is now Pakistan, is the world’s only surviving Bronze Age metropolis and is considered to be the most important site of the Indus Valley civilisation. However, for some time now it has been known that this incredible ancient record is under serious threat and is in danger of disappearing into the pages of history, a victim of government neglect, lack of funding, public indifference and environmental degradation. To make matters worse, this UNESCO World Heritage listed site is about to become the venue for the Sindh Festival opening ceremony and work is currently underway to construct stages and equipment within and around the ancient city.

A group of conservationists in Pakistan made up of scholars and archaeologists believe that the construction work needed for the event will irreparably damage the ruins of Mohenjo Daro and are appealing to UNESCO to step in to stop the cultural event taking place at the 5,000-year-old site.

The festival is the brainchild of the young leader of the Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Holding the festival in Mr Bhutto Zardari's home province is seen as an attempt to strengthen his local credentials - something that critics fault him for considering he has spent most of his life abroad.

Mr Bhutto Zardari has dismissed the criticism, saying organisers are taking the utmost care and that the event will go ahead on Saturday. But conservationists argue that Mr Zardari and his government have previously shown a complete disregard for preservation of ancient sites.  Many of the country's historical sites are crumbling through neglect, endangered by vandalism and urban encroachment, as well as a booming trade in illegally excavated treasures, and some argue the government has done little to stop it.

Large wooden and steel scaffolding is currently being erected over and around the ruins, while heavy spotlights and lasers have been installed for a light show. Farzand Masih, head of the Department of Archaeology at Punjab University, said such activity is banned under the Antiquity Act.  "You cannot even hammer a nail at an archaeological site," he said.

Mohenjo Daro is already in an incredibly fragile condition. It is estimated that at its current rate of degradation, the World Heritage listed site could be gone within 20 years. The loss of Mohenjo Daro would not only be a great national tragedy for Pakistan, it would be a loss to the entire world.

By April Holloway

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