Hoi An town on the brink, officials say

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Hoi An Town is set to become history in a couple of years as new owners tear down walls and make changes to accommodate their business and old owners have no funds to preserve their houses in their original state, officials say.


Statistics compiled by authorities of Quang Nam Province show that 83 houses in the town have been sold to others and 181 others have been rented out, the Vietnam News Agency said in a report.


Some people, after buying several houses next to each other, have pulled down the walls between the houses to make a bigger shop.


For business purposes, new house owners in Hoi An have changed the interior of the houses, affecting the house structure, especially the corners for worshipping ancestors.


Nguyen Su, secretary of Hoi An's Party unit, said at a recent conference about preserving Hoi An that the town reported dozens of violations in construction every month.


"With current speed of violations, we will lose the ancient town in three or four years," Su said.


"Preserving each house or each gable "¦ is the matter of life and death," he said.


The secretary said that local government has to be determined to punish all violations.


All the patterned tiles and extra stories added to the houses during recent construction work have to be removed in order to preserve the beauty of the ancient town, Su said.


Hoi An, which was recognized a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, is now home to 1,360 old houses.


Since 1999, the town has invested more than VND66 billion (US$3.17 million) from the state budget and foreign funds to restore 166 national relics in the town, and more than VND5.2 billion on 110 private relics.


But a survey by the town authorities showed that there are still 103 houses severely damaged and on the verge of collapsing at any time.


The houses would be threatened by the flood season this year, officials said.


Tran Van An, deputy director of Hoi An Cultural Heritage Preservation Management Center, calculated that the town has only managed to save more than VND10 billion every year for preserving the houses.


An said such low investments cannot save the houses, which need much more money.


Many traditional materials once used for the houses are now hard to find as logging in Quang Nam has been banned and brick and lime kilns that used traditional methods were also shut down to protect the environment, he said.


Some house owners even face the pressure from their family members, who live far away but want the houses be sold and the money shared between themselves.


Le Van Giang, Chairman of Hoi An People's Committee, said he has received a lot of letters from such house owners asking for help.


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