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Fund shortage threatens old homes in Hoi An

With many old houses in the historic town of Hoi An facing a threat of damage from the elements, a lack of funding is taking its toll on one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

  18/11/2008 10:29

When the flood season comes, many Hoi An residents fear their centuries-old houses might collapse anytime.

The town has been flooded five times this year, including once last month when Bach Dang, Nguyen Thai Hoc, and Tran Phu streets submerged to a depth of over one metre.

Tran Phu and Nguyen Thai Hoc Streets are well-known for several homes dating to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Their architecture is a medley of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese styles.

"My old house has been inundated for several days and is in bad shape and about to collapse," Tran Van Sung, the owner of a house on Bach Dang Street lamented.

"We have to run around the house to avoid water from the leaking roof," he said.

No money, big problem

But Sung and owners of many other old houses find it hard to renovate their houses because it is a very expensive business.

"We welcome the Government’s projects that call on the community to join local authorities in renovating and protecting old houses," he said.

"But it’s costly to repair a house."

It will cost over VND200 million (US$11,900) to renovate Sung’s house, according to an estimate from Hoi An’s Heritage Preservation Centre. "The local authorities will pay 45 per cent of the cost. I’m a small trader, I cannot afford over VND100 million for the renovation," the 64 year-old said.

An old and beautiful house on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street was seriously damaged in a flood last year. The Government footed 55 per cent of the VND500 million it cost to repair it. The owner reportedly had to borrow money from banks and friends to manage the remainder.

Another old house on Bach Dang Street collapsed in a flood in 2004, also badly damaging four adjoining houses. After the accident, the town People’s Committee submitted to the Government a list of 82 old houses in urgent need of repairs, 52 of them privately owned.

But four years have passed and many of the houses are yet to be repaired because the owners cannot afford it.

"The owners of 26 houses approved the renovation," Nguyen Chi Trung, director of the Heritage Preservation Centre, said. "The others said they did not have money for the renovation."

"The renovation of old houses in Hoi An is necessary and urgent," Le Van Giang, chairman of the People’s Committee, said.

"The task is not only to safeguard the people living in the houses but also to preserve the soul of this historic town."

Hoi An receives around 800 tourists every day, according to the local Tourism Department.

Foreign tourists are constantly seen sauntering around narrow streets lined with ancient, dark-wood houses, enjoying a pleasurable foray into the past. (Source: VNS)

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