Moun­tains of Waste

With a large num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing the Hi­malayas ev­ery year, there is also an in­crease in heaps of garbage that is dam­ag­ing the splen­dor of the mighty moun­tains.

Southasia - - ENVIIRONMENT NEPAL - By Sarah B. Haider The writer is a Karachi-based jour­nal­ist.

The Hi­malayas, with­out a shadow of doubt, are one of the most beau­ti­ful tourist spots in the world. From snow­cov­ered peaks to breath­tak­ing hill sta­tions and val­leys to awe-in­spir­ing flora and fauna to the tran­quil aura sur­round­ing the en­tire re­gion, the Hi­malayas are surely a glimpse of heaven on earth. They are pop­u­lar for their scenic beauty and are also home to some of the lofti­est peaks in the world, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Mount Ever­est.

Ev­ery year, the Hi­malayas at­tract thou­sands of tourists from all over the world who come to the re­gion for sight­see­ing and trekking. Liv­ing in mag­nif­i­cent sur­round­ings and wak­ing up to such a spec­tac­u­lar panorama is cer­tainly a dream

come true for any tourist. The im­ages of the Hi­malayas that ap­pear on­line, in mag­a­zines and on tele­vi­sion are enough to con­vince any­one that no place could be more won­der­ful than this.

Sadly, how­ever, for the people of Nepal, the coun­try’s pride – the in­cred­i­bly strik­ing moun­tain ranges – are fast be­com­ing a rubbish dump. The high lev­els of pol­lu­tion are dam­ag­ing the splen­dor of the mighty Hi­malayas.

Ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates, around 35,000 tourists, in­clud­ing ex­pe­di­tion teams, visit the Ever­est re­gion ev­ery year. With the ever-grow­ing num­ber of tourists in the moun­tains there is also an in­crease in heaps of beer and soft drink cans, empty min­eral wa­ter bot­tles and other waste ma­te­rial. Tourists throw lit­ter with­out think­ing twice about its im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment in the long run.

Some decades back, there was hardly any garbage on the moun­tains. But in re­cent years, ev­ery vil­lage in the Hi­malayas can be seen lit­tered with plas­tic all the way up to the Ever­est base camp. This is be­cause pre­vi­ously, there were no more than a score of moun­taineer­ing ex­pe­di­tions and less than a hun­dred trekkers vis­it­ing the Hi­malayas ev­ery year. To­day, the an­nual num­ber of ex­pe­di­tions has grown to over 200 and of trekkers to over 50,000. To top it off, there have been no ar­range­ments in Nepal to treat the waste as there is no de­vel­oped re­cy­cling in­dus­try there.

This is not all. Like in many other parts of the world, the Hi­malayas are also fac­ing the neg­a­tive ef­fects of global warm­ing. Over the years, wrong mod­els of de­vel­op­ment, an im­proper use of re­sources, chang­ing life­styles and mod­ern con­sumerism has led to en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion as well as re­source de­ple­tion. As a re­sult, the glaciers in the Hi­malayas are rapidly melt­ing. This im­pact of global warm­ing in the Hi­malayas will have dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences both for the en­vi­ron­ment and the hu­man pop­u­la­tion.

In or­der to tackle this sit­u­a­tion and to lessen the alarm­ing in­ten­sity of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, a ‘Zero Waste Hi­malayas’ cam­paign was ini­ti­ated by groups and in­di­vid­u­als across the Hi­malayan Moun­tain re­gion. The cam­paign was launched with the tech­ni­cal guid­ance of Thanal – an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Ker­ala, In­dia, that works for the al­le­vi­a­tion of prob­lems re­lated to pub­lic in­ter­est, par­tic­u­larly en­vi­ron­ment, agri­cul­ture and liveli­hood gen­er­a­tion.

Started in 2010, the ‘Zero Waste Hi­malayas’ ini­tia­tive is aimed at pro­mot­ing eth­i­cal, ef­fi­cient and eco­nomic re­source use and re­source re­cov­ery in the Hi­malayan re­gion. Its main aim is to make the Hi­malayas waste-free and make Nepal plas­ticfree. The cam­paign has at­tracted people from all walks of life, in­clud­ing na­tive Nepali people, tour oper­a­tors, govern­ment of­fi­cials, moun­taineer­ing ex­perts and en­vi­ron­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives from across the globe. The ini­tia­tive calls for an ur­gent need to de­vise a waste man­age­ment strat­egy to achieve its goals.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by the Solid Waste Man­age­ment Tech­ni­cal Sup­port Cen­tre (SWMTSC) in Nepal, about 170 met­ric tones of waste is gen­er­ated an­nu­ally in the Mount Ever­est re­gion. Out of this, plas­tic ac­counts for 21 per­cent of the waste, paper and card­board 22 per­cent, metal and glass 13 per­cent, tex­tiles four per­cent and food­stuffs, hu­man waste and bod­ies ac­count for the re­main­ing..

The poor man­age­ment of waste and the ex­ces­sive use of plas­tic bags pose a se­ri­ous risk to the en­vi­ron­ment as well as pub­lic health in the coun­try.

Though the cam­paign was started with great enthusiasm and fer­vor, there were a num­ber of chal­lenges – both on the macro and the com­mu­nity level – that had to be tack­led first. For in­stance, when seen at a macro level, Nepal has faced po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity for decades and hence waste man­age­ment has never been a pri­or­ity for the es­tab­lish­ment. Sim­i­larly, there was an ab­sence of proper laws or poli­cies that could tackle en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and nei­ther were there any pun­ish­ments for the vi­o­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

An­other big hur­dle was the lack of fund­ing for en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives. At a mi­cro level, is­sues such as lack of in­for­ma­tion and aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, lack of ac­cess to TV or ra­dio or other me­dia due to poverty and lack of in­te­grated voices in civil so­ci­ety about en­vi­ron­ment etc., hin­dered the cam­paign from its very out­set.

How­ever, through var­i­ous sem­i­nars, con­fer­ences and ac­tiv­i­ties, the ini­tia­tive ad­dressed the chal­lenges and for­mu­lated so­lu­tions from time to time. Since its in­cep­tion in 2010, the ‘ Zero Waste Hi­malayas’ cam­paign has con­tin­ued with full zeal and enthusiasm. Ev­ery year, the cam­paign­ers hold var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and con­tinue to work to make the is­sue of waste and cli­mate change in the Hi­malayan re­gion a global pri­or­ity and sum­mon more or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who can com­mit to learn­ing and tak­ing ac­tion to­wards mak­ing the Hi­malayas a waste-free re­gion.

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