Mon. Jun 5th, 2023

Tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan: A Double-Edged Sword for the Fragile Ecosystem

Pic Via Internet

B Emam Dad,Gilgit

Gilgit-Baltistan is known for the breathtaking beauty of its mesmerizing snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys, pristine lakes and exotic culture and ecosystem that attract a large number of local and foreign tourists every year. However, the rapid growth of tourism in recent years and an unregulated tourism sector in the region is causing severe environmental degradation, putting the fragile ecosystem of the area at serious risk.

The impacts of uncontrolled tourism on the ecosystem of Gilgit-Baltistan are manifold. Waste generation is one of the most significant environmental issues. The rapid growth of tourism in the region has resulted in an increase in the generation of waste, including plastic waste, food waste, etc. The waste generated by tourists is mostly left unattended on the streets and in natural areas, polluting the environment and affecting the health of local communities and wildlife. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of proper waste management facilities and regulations.

Another important impact is on the biodiversity. The region is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including rare and endangered species. Uncontrolled tourism may pose a serious threat to the destruction of natural habitats due to construction activities and disturbance caused by tourists, leading to a decline in the number of species.

Similarly, the rapid growth of tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan has led to an increase in pollution levels, including air, water, and soil pollution. The use of vehicles and generators by tourist facilities has also led to air pollution, affecting the health of local communities and wildlife. The increased traffic of tourists is also contributing to soil erosion, leading to landslides and other natural disasters.

To mitigate the adverse impacts of unbridled tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan, there is an urgent need for regulatory measures and environmental protocols to be put in place. One way to control environmental degradation in Gilgit-Baltistan caused by uncontrolled tourism is to introduce a green tax or environmental tax on visiting tourists. Several countries have imposed similar taxes on tourists to address environmental degradation caused by uncontrolled tourism. For example, Bhutan charges a fee of $200 for tourists visiting the country, which goes towards funding conservation efforts and promoting sustainable tourism practices. In Costa Rica, tourists pay a $15 exit tax, which goes towards funding conservation and sustainable tourism projects. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef tax charges a fee of $6-10 per person for tourists visiting the reef, which goes towards funding conservation and research efforts.

Introducing a similar tax in Gilgit-Baltistan can help mitigate the environmental impacts of uncontrolled tourism while also promoting sustainable tourism practices. The tax revenue can be used to fund conservation and environmental protection efforts and to support the development of eco-friendly tourism facilities. It can also act as a deterrent for tourists who may not be willing to pay an additional fee, reducing the number of visitors and their impact on the environment.

However, it is crucial to ensure that the tax is reasonable and does not become a burden for tourists, which may discourage them from visiting the region. The tax should be accompanied by awareness campaigns and the promotion of sustainable tourism practices to encourage visitors to be responsible and conscious of their environmental impact.

Another measure may be to limit the number of incoming visitors by setting a quota per year. This strategy can help regulate the flow of tourists and minimize the impact of tourism on the environment and local communities. Several countries have successfully implemented similar quotas to manage the influx of tourists and protect their natural and cultural heritage. For example, Bhutan, maintains a policy of a quota on how many tourists enter per year, all of which must be on an official tour, with there being a minimum spending amount per day.

Limiting the number of visitors can have several benefits, including reduced pressure on natural resources, lower waste generation, reduced carbon emissions, and better management of tourist activities. This strategy can also help protect local communities and their culture from the negative impacts of mass tourism, such as cultural commodification and erosion of traditional practices.

One of the most critical steps is to ensure that all tourist facilities, including hotels, restaurants, and other infrastructure, are built in accordance with sustainable development principles and as per local culture and architectural style. This means that they should be constructed in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment and preserve the cultural heritage of the region and local communities.

It is crucial to understand the impacts of uncontrolled tourism on the environment and ecosystem of Gilgit-Baltistan and take proactive measures to mitigate its adverse effects. By promoting responsible tourism practices and adopting sustainable approaches, we can protect the natural and cultural heritage of Gilgit-Baltistan for future generations to enjoy. As Jane Goodall once said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

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