Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas

August 14, 2006

Source: Tricycle

On August 14, 2006 Tricycle reported, "There's not much to be optimistic about in Afghanistan, but residents of Bamiyan are hopeful that the famous Buddhas of their town, destroyed by the Taliban in March of 2001, can be rebuilt. Searching through the rubble for fragments of the statues, paid $5 a day by a United Nations-funded project, locals remember the better days of tourism, when Bamiyan had twenty hotels and hordes of backpacking tourists. $1.3 million, the budget of the UN program, is a lot of money in Afghanistan, but experts say rebuilding the statues will cost closer to $30 million, and the best estimate for completion of reconstruction is 2009. Habiba Surabi, governor of Bamiyan province and the first female provincial governor in Afghanistan's history, is modest in her goals for the reconstruction. While Afghan president Hamid Karzai has promised to rebuild all the destroyed statues, Surabi says, 'We can change the local people's lives from being dominated by poverty if we rebuild one of the Buddha statues.' There were three Buddhas at Bamiyan -- two standing and one seated -- thought to be 1,500 years old. The tallest stood 174 feet high. In early March 2001 all three were hit by tank shells and artillery, then dynamited to finish the job. The Buddhas' remains, which tumbled down the cliff-side to the valley floor, range from chunks the size of tennis balls to boulders weighing several tons. These remains are being painstakingly identified, catalogued, and placed under shelters for safe-keeping and an eventual reconstruction by the Buddhas' neighbors: Many of the poorest residents of Bamiyan live in caves in the cliffside just as the statues did, with no running water or electricity. The province of Bamiyan is considered to be one of Afghanistan's safest regions but the poverty is grinding. Mohammed Ayub, who walks more than a half-mile every day to get fresh water, says, 'I hope for the Buddha to be built again. We don't have power, we don't have running water, we don't have jobs. We are living inside these caves like wild animals.'"