By Saadia Khalid
Our country is lucky enough in having the diverse landscapes from deserts, cold deserts, seas, mountains and plains etc. Pakistan witnesses the world’s highest mountain ranges that are Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush in the north west region. Pakistan is also the home of world second highest peak that is K2 which is around 28,251 feet above sea level. Moreover, 100 highest peaks are above 7000 meters and five are above 8000 meters including the Tirch Mir, Gasherbrum 1, Gasherbrum 2, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat. After the polar region, we are having largest reservoir of the glaciers. Deosai Plains and cold desert Skardu are one of unique tourists spot in the north. Gwador city, Astola Island and other beaches in Baluchistan with crystal clear beaches are important for marine tourism. Pakistan has all the potential to flourish in all types of tourism that are recreational, adventurous, religious, historical, marine, cultural and sports. Tourism has enriched the lives of many people. It has contributed to the growth and welfare in their environment. Working in line with Sustainable Development Goals, tourism has greatly improved and is being conserved for future contribution to the economy. Tourism is one of the driving forces of global economic growth, and currently accounts for 1 in 11 jobs worldwide. By giving access to decent work opportunities in the tourism sector, society- particularly youth and women- can benefit from enhanced skills and professional development.
In the industry of Tourism, it is much needed firstly to learn about the importance of tourism, its code of ethics, protection of environment, protecting wildlife, forests to promote and earn with sustainable tourism.
There is no doubt that now Pakistan has become peaceful and friendly tourism hub with its important geographical location, improved security measure and ease of visa policy for 24 countries on arrival including China, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, the United Kingdom, the United States and others.
The Gilgit-Baltistan has brought back the domestic and foreign tourism in the country and around 1.2 million tourists visited this year and number is increasing day by day due to better situation of law and order and peace. With the increasing interest of tourists towards this region, CPEC and motorway projects has converted this region in all season tourist destination. With the collaboration of tourism agency, private partnerships and Gilgit-Baltiistan government, each year, many events, expos and exhibitions has been celebrated in different districts of GB to promote historical, cultural and heritage tourism.
There is much need for the government to regulate domestic tourism and facilitate foreign tourism. With advent of social media, people are going to northern valleys in masses but they are not aware of protection of the environment and climate change. Due to large number of visitors, hotels are growing more and more each year with destroying the natural habitat and cutting of forests on high hills and mountains. There was no way of waste and sewerage management, thus all trash and sewerage lines are going directly into rivers. The hotel industry is only interested in making the profits and this is damaging the local environment and valleys very badly.
This situation is much worse and damaging in the Khyber Pukhtukhawa tourist’s valleys like Galiyat forests, Kaghan, Swat, Kalam and Kumrat Valley. As the most of the beautiful valleys in KPK comes under the forest zone, thus hotel industry has no choice except to cut the trees to build the buildings without any planning of building underground sewerage lines. The government has not made any solid policies in issuing the NOC or safety measures while construction. The tourists visiting these areas do not own the place and thus, littering is more visible along the roads, river sides and hiking treks than anything.
In comparison to KPK, the cities of Gilgit-Balistan is representing little better picture as the Environmental Protection Agency and Gilgit Development Authority (GDA) are determined to save the pure river’s water and marine/aquatic life by implementing action plan with huge investment. Recently, the chief minister GB Hafeezur Rehman has approved a project worth Rs180 million with proper working of Solid Waste Management Company (SWMC) across the areas. The project is working in these districts of Gilgit, Skardu Hunza, Nagar, Diamer, Ghizer, Astore, Shigar, Ghanche and Kharmang, to keep the urban areas clean by ensuring proper disposal of municipal waste. This is the reason, once someone entered into the territory of GB, he could not see any heaps of trash along the roads or rivers. With the challenge of growing population, the situation is getting worse day by day. Most of the wastes produced are much enough to destroy the natural ecosystem and environment of Gilgit- Baltistan. All wastes that generate daily are either dropped in a nearby wide-open places or thrown into the nearby water channel, or river, causing even more pollution, instead of reducing it. Yet, the problem did not reach the crisis level, but still it needed the proper attention and diagnosis to the reach the solutions.
Pakistan is on the number of 124th in terms of tourism and 134th in terms of environmental sustainability, in spite of having all potentials. The main challenges of this growing tourism that our natural assets are in danger. The senseless people are damaging the historical sites. The concrete buildings are destroying the beauty of forests. The government did not provide any alternate ways of waste and sewerage management. The highest ATM machine could be installed at Khunjerab Pass but government could not build or installed any portable toilets or dustbins. So, our government did not follow any regulative plans and are not giving any preference to preservation of these tourist’s destinations
As the conclusion, for sustaining the environment, awareness campaigns are obligatory on massive level via main stream and social media. The basic needs of locals should be fulfilled so they don’t damage their surroundings. As the most of trash produced by food industry and brand products like bottles of Nestle, Pepsi, Coco-Cola, packets of Lays, Kurkure, etc. These multinational companies should come forward for fulfilling their corporate social responsibility and cleaning the trash of all valleys going along pure water of rivers, streams and green forests. Moreover, there is responsibility to play their active role in protecting the natural environment and beauty of the heavenly places of the region by sharing their views and expertise, and by highlighting public issues and suggesting their solutions via trainings and awareness sessions and the Local Government must facilitate the locals.