Social and Environmental Impact of Tourism

By Naila Ajaz

قُلْ سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ بَدَأَ الْخَلْقَ ۚ ثُمَّ اللَّهُ يُنْشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

"Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed Allah, over all things, is competent.”

(Surah Al-Ankabut, 20)

The trend of domestic tourism towards North Pakistan, especially Gilgit-Baltistan, has increased exponentially during the last few years. The increasing trend itself is an evidence of peace and harmony in the region.

I have heard people calling Gilgit-Baltstan a “Heaven on Earth”.  I have also met people who are in love with the place and never want to go back. I regard those who have visited the place and invite those who haven’t.  I like tourists, and it is always nice to welcome them to view the natural beauty of our mother land.

I am not the one to stop you to picture the “Heaven”. You must come; it is your utmost right to sight the beauty and experiences the nature. It would be appreciated if you visited it with purpose, concern and care. Experiencing the natural beauty is also a means to connect with the divine; it really helps nourish the soul. Imagine a midnight walk under the clear blue sky with shinning stars and the stunning mountains. It feels like witnessing the nature so closely, and it helps to remind us, O! Allah, You Are Great!!

According to a recent research, in 2017 about 1.72 million tourists have visited Gilgit-Baltistan and it is projected that the number will increase to 2.5 million in 2018.  It depicts a drastic increase within a year which is expected to increase each year in the fear, because due to CPEC the government will do everything to keep the area calm and peaceful.

This trend will definitely boost the local economy, but I am afraid of its drawbacks also. While exploring nature it pleases us more but demands very less.  See how selfless nature is, it expects us to care for it for our own good. Everyone has to play his/her part in dealing with the challenges caused by tourism to the nature.

One can do the following to play a positive role in sustaining the nature’s beauty:

  1. Properly dispose off all of your garbage. Collect plastics, flatten tins and carry them out. Never hide garbage under stone, or in trenches. According to a research we are responsible for dumping 70 million tons of global warming causing pollution in the environment. It will be more in future, if we don’t start acting.
  2. Use gas for cooking, please do not cut down trees.
  3. Help in preserving the natural environment
  4. Use the resources with due care.
  5. Refrain from damaging crops and orchards as it is the major source of livelihood of the inhabitants.
  6. Take permission before taking photographs especially of women and religious places.
  7. Respect other fellow tourists as you expect it for yourself. As our behavior towards others determine other’s behavior towards us.
  8. Respect the local culture and social values.
  9. Be humble to the locals.
  10. Grow trees
  11. Leave all your bad habits behind, while going to the “heavenly” destinations. Return a humble and good person. It is worth it!

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” James Michener

Each day we are throwing tone of litters. If this continues, it is likely to lose the natural beauty of Gilgit-Baltistan quickly. Photographs of wrappers, bottles plastic bags and food item in lakes can be seen everywhere on social media. We need to stop this attitude, if not for ourselves, at least for our coming generation.

Another increasing issue is the behavior of some tourists with the locals, especially women and girls. It is very shocking and alarming that tourists are behaving inappropriately and disturbing locals.

A recent video from Kalash valley of Chitral on social media shows how a tourist is harassing local women.

We strongly revile this vile action, and thank the concerned authorities for nabbing the anti-social person, who despite of his public apology needs to be taught a thing or two about basic ethics. Punishing and educating tourists can be the best tactic for reducing unethical behavior.

Government, through Tourism Department and Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (GB-EPA), should develop a comprehensive plan by allocating required resources for the development of basic tourism infrastructure to improve the locals’ capabilities and general awareness to manage tourism and protect the environment.

The plan can be implemented by engaging civil society organization, community based organization and the citizen at large. It is a collective responsibility to develop high quality tourism and protect the environment. Let’s be part of it. If there is will, there is a way.

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