GEORGE TOWN: Malacca and George Town’s joint Unesco World Heritage Site status may be in jeopardy due to the conversion of heritage buildings here into swiftlet breeding premises.
Unesco’s World Heritage Centre has expressed concern over the matter following a series of reports the organisation had received.
Centre director Francesco Bandarin said, in a letter dated Jan 14, the reports stated that there were 200 to 300 swiftlet farms in George Town.
He had sent the letter to Ali Abdul Ghani, Malaysia’s permanent delegate to Unesco in Paris.
It is believed the reports received by Bandarin had alleged that a number of the farms were located in heritage buildings, notably shophouses.
These shophouses were sealed and continuously moistened to provide a conducive environment for the swiftlets, to the possible detriment of the building fabric.
Bandarin urged the authorities in Malaysia to verify the accuracy of the reports, and should the allegations be true, to assess the impact of the situation.
In his letter to Ali, Bandarin pointed out that the World Heritage Committee had, in its decision to inscribe the site, singled out the significance of shophouses as an integral part of the heritage townscape.
The letter was subsequently forwarded to the National Heritage Department and George Town World Heritage Incorporated.
Penang Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said he viewed the letter as a subtle warning for stakeholders to take action or face the possibility of George Town being delisted as a world heritage site.
Chow said the Penang Municipal Council had identified swiftlet farms run by 121 operators in 128 heritage buildings.
A total of 28 new and unregistered farms run by 27 operators had been closed down.
Chow said action to move out the remaining farms was being taken in stages.