Indian Himalayan Region And Unsustainable Tourism


Indian Himalayan Region And Unsustainable Tourism

The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) is known for its giant peaks, the rich cultural heritage it hosts, its rivers and the livelihood it provides to people living within the region. Its potential has turned tourism into a key driver of socio-economic development. For local people, the Himalayas acts as a source of economic and business opportunities and for the government and private enterprises it brings revenues and profits. However, the current model of tourism comes with its challenges and limitations that need equal attention.

What are the challenges faced by the region?

o The important cities of Himalayas are facing the same problems that cities in mainland India face. It includes garbage, plastics, untreated sewage, urban poverty, air pollution. There are no decentralized facilities to dispose the junk in a safe manner.
o Melting ice and snow due to climate change form new glacial lakes, as well as increase the volumes of existing ones. This could raise the threat of glacial-lake outburst floods. Some 8,800 glacial lakes in the Himalayas are spread across nations, and more than 200 of these have been classified as dangerous.
o The development of hydroelectricity is important as it provides the country with a renewable source of energy and is a revenue source for the state. But it is also clear that the impact of the flood is exacerbated because of the number and poor construction of the hydropower projects.
o Our mountains are treated only as tourist destinations without realizing that over draining resources beyond a point can be disastrous. Also, mountains also have their own microclimate. Its unique fauna and flora have a short reproductive time frame and are sensitive to disturbance. Unsustainable tourism can upset the natural balance.

What can be the way forward?

o The state should encourage tourism, but the goal should be responsible tourism, which means that before opening up new tourism areas, an assessment of the effect of such endeavors must be conducted.
o The need of the hour is to work on a Pan-Himalayan strategy so that states can evolve common policies. The National Mission on Sustaining Himalayan ecosystem is a step forward in the right direction.
o The building design of towns associated with the Himalayan region must reflect the local ecosystem while incorporating seismic fragility and aesthetics. Unmanaged and unchecked urban growth should not be permitted. All this will require strong regulatory institutions in these towns.
o There is a need to design sustainable hydropower projects to maximize the use of available water for energy generation. Rivers cannot and must not be re-engineered, but dams can be re-engineered to maximize use of available water.
o Protected areas in Himalayan region like Hemis National Park and Karakoram Sanctuary in Ladakh require vigilance and regular patrolling to reduce unwanted wildlife-tourist interaction as well as habitat destruction due to off-road driving and encroachment.
o The Uttarakhand Flood 2013 teaches us that we must learn to build sustainable models for pilgrim-based tourism in the fragile hills. The move towards ecotourism needs to be promoted carefully so that best practices can be learnt and disseminated.

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