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WB to Help Protect Cultural Heritage in Gansu

Important cultural and natural assets, including relics documenting the spread of Buddhism along China's Silk Road, will be restored and conserved as part of a new, US$38.4 million sustainable tourism project approved Thursday by the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors.

The loan to China will be used to generate benefits for local communities through the development of a sustainable cultural tourism sector in Gansu Province in north-western China. Home to 26 million people, the province is regarded as one of the poorest in the country, measured by per capita GDP. With such cultural and natural heritage assets as the Silk Road, the Great Wall and the Yellow River, the Gansu Provincial Government regards the development of a sustainable tourism industry as key to its future. Currently, the sector contributes only 3 percent of the province's GDP.

The new Gansu Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection and Development Project is designed to help the provincial government to resolve some of the barriers that have been inhibiting tourism development and to enhance its capacity for developing a sustainable cultural tourism sector.

The project will focus on the conservation of cultural and natural assets and the development of priority infrastructure at nine key sites within the province. These include a portion of the Great Wall, courtyard houses in Qingcheng (thought to be the oldest town on the Yellow River), striking geological parks, and the vast complex of grottoes, temples, murals and statues of Maijishan, in the eastern part of Gansu along the Silk Road.

"We hope this project will become a model for Gansu and more broadly, for China," said project manager Mara Warwick, a senior urban environment specialist of the World Bank. "The World Bank has extensive global and China experience to share in heritage protection, sustainable tourism, institutional development, and financial management."

The project seeks to strengthen local institutions and develop training programs for communities, project staff and government officials with the goal of increasing the involvement of local communities in the tourism sector. Training will focus on the skills needed to build local, tourism-oriented entrepreneurial activities such as handicrafts, home stays and guiding.

The World Bank has worked in China on the protection of cultural heritage and the development of sustainable tourism for many years, including at the Leshan Grand Buddha, the Shenyang Imperial Palace, Chongqing's Huguang Huiguan merchant guild complex, and the historic city center of Shaoxing. The project in Gansu is the first dedicated heritage and tourism project that the Bank has supported in China.

(China Development Gateway March 21, 2008)

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