How ZSTHS is mitigating climate change to preserve Zanzibar Stone Town

ZANZIBAR: DILAPIDATION is said to be one of the main reasons why many old buildings in the Zanzibar Stone Town wear away and some collapse, but the growing impact of climate change also has not spared the world heritage, necessitating mitigation to save it.

Zanzibar government has for a long period of time been taking efforts to find ways to protect the historical building through repair supported by some development partners, to preserve the history which is one of the tourists’ attractions in archipelago.

Survey has proved that the wearing of the old building is caused by climate change, where buildings develop dangerous cracks, putting the historical buildings at risk of collapsing.

Regarded as one of the feasible interventions to protect the buildings, the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society (ZSTHS) has embarked on training young people on how to repair the buildings so that they can last longer despite threats of human development and climate change.

Engineer Hoshil Dhanji from the society says the project to train young people aims to collaborate with the government in protecting Zanzibar Stone Town which is in the list of World Heritage site, widely visited by tourists from across the globe.

“Young people, mainly those who have completed school but unable to continue or have graduated but have no jobs, are trained by facilitators who are experts or have experience in repair of buildings constructed using traditional materials. During the training, we educate the youths on techniques to repair, the necessary equipment, including types of materials such as clay and wood, carpentry and painting used for the conservation of the famous historical buildings in the Stone Town. “We do not construct houses that have collapsed, whose construction needs to be restarted from the ground up, but our job is to make repairs by using the young people we train, so that the buildings are protected,” Mr Dhanji explained.

Since 2021, the ZSTHS in collaboration with the International National Trust Organisation (INTO) of England under the funding of the British Council Cultural Protection Fund implemented a 28-month project dubbed ‘WITHSTANDING CHANGE: Heritage Amongst Climate Uncertainty.’ Engineer Dhanji said that through the project, the society revitalises and educates the community to know how climate change affects the old buildings, especially those in the Stone Town, the heritage site and their role to protect the city.

In implementation of the project, ZSTHS made major repairs to the existing buildings, including the Old Customs House built in 1920, located at Mizingani area, facing the Indian Ocean, and the work was successfully done and now ZSTHS uses it as its office.

He said “In our conservation strategy, we are focusing on buildings that are really affected by climate change and buildings which were repaired not less than 20 years ago. We repair them so that they can withstand weather changes.” Apart from repair, the ZSTHS Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr Makame Juma Mtwana said that through the project, they have already conducted training three times to young people from various areas of Zanzibar, particularly from Stone Town.

“We announced the training opportunity for the young people to apply. A total of 15 young women and men participated in the first intake for the training on masonry and repair technics and a similar number received training in natural wood conservation (Historic Timber Conservation),” he explained.

He adds that among the applicants were students from the Karume Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), a branch of the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA). He said that the ZSTHS is also planning to organise and conduct training on sustainable tour guide programme for 20 young people, “The strategy is to ensure the young people own the Stone Town so that protection is guaranteed at this time of pressure exerted by human development.” Mr Makame said that it is their expectation that the project will produce professionals in architecture of the heritage town and other historical buildings for entrepreneurs as well as private and public buildings.

The CEO said the project will help SUZA to establish a laboratory to carry out various research activities related to suitable materials used to build traditional/historical buildings, “We have also suggested that the University get a curriculum related to repairing historical buildings.” But all that was achieved due to a two-week training visit to England organised by the ‘International National Trust Organisation’ (INTO), where two members from ZSTHS attended and learned various methods used to preserve and protect cultural and natural heritage sites against the effects of climate change.

The topics covered during the training in UK include use of renewable energy, conservation of buildings to protect them from the effects of climate change, control of floods, public participation and management of visitors visiting heritage sites, among others.

Ms Khairat Mohammed Salum (30), a resident of Shangani in Zanzibar, is among the young people who received conservation training, “As a student of KIST, I am happy to learn about conservation.

We hope we will manage to protect our heritage site.” Mr Yunus Abdu Ame (33), a member of the conservation society and a student of Karume, said that for two years now, he has been working in painting, “We will ensure we apply the knowledge to protect the sites.” Mr Ali Said Bakari is the Director General of the Zanzibar Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority (ZSTCDA) who said that the government is happy with involvement of the society in the protection of the heritage site.

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