By Eli Aaniyah
The sun preparing to rise over the rim of the peaks in the early morning gives a halo backdrop to the mountains. The glow suddenly sparks into full light as the sun pushes over the top edge. This is my favorite moment of each day. It brings new hope into my heart.
I have listened to many people describe their plights to me in my work with HRDP. One of the most challenging aspects of my work with Ali Shafa is how to reconcile competing needs for a common goal. The paired concerns of ecology and economy often appear to be in direct conflict. The ecology of GB is suffering from many directions. The pathetic state of the economic conditions of many GB families is central to many other societal problems. Water and deforestation are two serious ecological issues that have strong interconnectedness with the economy of GB. Yet, the two need not be at odds. Many GBians are working hard to unite the two by working with stakeholders to set up economic projects with sound ecological foundations.
The ecological situation in Gilgit Baltistan is of extraordinary importance to the people of GB. Of all the resources possessed by GB, water is by far the most valuable. It is a source of economic power for GB in the long-term. Water quality and conservation projects are already in action in GB. Sharafat Hussain is one local entrepreneur who has made a successful business venture out of water ecology. More niches in water ecology exist. HRDP is working to build academic and commercial relationships through its Global Training and Research Institute initiative begun by Ali Shafa which would provide GBians access to the latest ideas and resources. It would likewise give an outlet for GBians to share their experience with the world at large, and be another way our brilliant minds in GB can earn the respect of the international community.
In line with that, hydropower is emerging in GB. Even relatively small flows of water have the potential to be utilized to generate electricity due to the force added to the water by the extreme drops in elevation. At the same time, alterations of the water flow can irreparably harm the environment as can be seen in many examples around the world. My thought is that, rather than blindly following in the path of others in these matters, that the many brilliant local minds in GB look at the problems and begin devising a variety of possible solutions. I think engaging all the GB stakeholders in the discussion would act to give a more 3-dimensional perspective on possible drawbacks and potential solutions. It might be that an altogether new path for power generation is found that better meets the needs associated with sustainability and open the way for novel economic activities. I have every confidence in my friends and associates in this regard, as I have met many innovative and creative GB people. No voice should be left unheard, including those of the children who are the ultimate inheritors of today’s actions.
Deforestation and the resulting loss of ecological sustainability is another item transcending ecology and economy. The people need to have wood for building, heating, and cooking. The logging and associated forestry based industries depend on a shrinking resource. Trucks regularly pass down the roads with their loads of giant logs. Yet each log represents a loss to the ecological system, another point of weakness added. Younus Shehzad has his own NGO, Basho Conservation and Development Organization (BCDO) as well as being a key member of Himalaya Rural Development Programme (HRDP). Younus is one of the dedicated ecologists in GB who is working on reforestation. He has done a great deal of work in ecological diversity as well. The work Younus does, and others like him, considers the ecologic system in the context of the economic system for the greater benefit of GB peoples. Eco tourism is a well established industry and along with bringing economic value to GB, it also is a way to draw interest to the support of GB ecologically and economically sustainable projects. The Shimshal Mountaineering School for women founded by mountaineers Qudrat Ali, Shaheen Baig, and Simone Moro is just one example of this.
Another way Younus is working is to devise ways to use land for income generation in environmentally sound ways. We are now looking at the environmental and economic impact and viability of the cultivation of quinoa (KEEN-wa). Quinoa is a hardy drought resistant seed crop that grows well in poor soils, originating in the upper elevations of the Peruvian Andes mountains. It is high in protein and a good money-maker. In combination with other ecologically sustainable economic activities such as fisheries, nutrition and income can be improved both. Sharafat Hussain mentioned earlier, is among the business people working in the medicinal plant exportation sector. There are undoubtedly many more ecologically sound economic opportunities that can be entered into.
We can look beyond borders of GB to see where continuing uninterrupted on the present path of ecological destruction by the pursuit of unsound practices for economic survival will end. The more Gilgit Baltistan interacts with the international community on its own terms, the more GB can be spotlighted abroad in the sectors of international society which will work in a bidirectional and collaborative fashion for the ultimate benefit of GB. The common goal of raising the quality of life for people in GB can be met by pairing the strengthening of ecological sustainability with economic improvement. The sunrise tops the peaks, bringing the light of a new day once again, and its renewed hope in the future for Gilgit Baltistan.
The contributor has a B.S. in Integrative Biology and a Masters in Healthcare Management and Administration, specializing in strategic change and innovation. She is an Assistant Director and Global Outreach Coordinator with HRDP