Tourism Industry and Climate Change in Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit Baltistan is in the northern area of Pakistan. It has a total area of 72,496 sq. km with around 2 million population. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and the Indian –administered region of Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast. GB is a geographically, diverse region with the highest peaks, glaciers, valleys, and rivers. The natural beauty of GB is well-known, and it is a well-liked travel destination. Adventure sports including mountaineering, trekking, and hiking are practiced here. The people are also famous for their hospitality. It is the best tourist spot in Pakistan and tourists from all over the world come to see the beauty of the region. Tourism has both positive and negative impacts on the area.

In the past times, the economy of Gilgit Baltistan was mostly dependent on agriculture, farming, and livestock. The people of Gilgit Baltistan produced purely organic products from available natural resources for their survival because most parts of GB had no easy access to the towns and cities due to difficult geographical locations.

Currently, the roads and other communication means are much better than in the past times. The easy road accessibility and fastest communications sources attracted national and international tourists to the diverse natural beauty of the region. Therefore, the tourism industry has become an emerging source of income for the people, creating employment opportunities, and reducing unemployment in the region. The government and private sector frequently make investments in infrastructure, such as roads, hotels, restaurants, and recreational facilities to accommodate the increasing number of tourists. The local community also benefits from this infrastructure, which improves their quality of life and makes it easier for them to get basic services.

Along with the economic benefits, the tourism industry has been negatively affecting the climate of Gilgit Baltistan. Climate change is the long-term shift in temperature and weather patterns. Some climatic changes are natural, and the major portion of climate change is found to be anthropogenic. The main cause of climate change in GB is the emission of carbon. On a daily basis, thousands of vehicles of tourists flow into the region. Gilgit Baltistan is also known as the Land of Glaciers. There are more than 7000 glaciers. Batura Glacier, Siachen Glacier, and Hisper Glacier are the most prominent glaciers. The emission of carbon from vehicles is raising the temperature, which is causing the glaciers to melt at an alarming rate. This results in the retreat and shrinkage of glaciers in the region followed by GLOF and floods. If the Glacier melting continues at the current rate this could lead to water scarcity and also pose threats to human settlement, infrastructure, and ecosystem.

In the region, agricultural land, pastures, and forest lands are being converted into concrete buildings. Due to deforestation, large amount of carbon stored by trees is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change.  According to scientific studies, annually more than 170,000 trees are cut down to fulfill the need for fuel in GB. Land cover changes pose a threat to ecosystems. Using time-series decadal forest cover change maps (1990, 2000, and 2010) showed extensive deforestation and degradation in northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), with 1,707 km2 of forest area lost over 20 years, 8 percent of the total or 0.38 percent per year. (Qamar et al .2016). There is no proper strategy for conserving forests and establishing afforestation in Gilgit Baltistan.

Waste management is an emerging issue in GB because of mass tourism. Growing tourism frequently leads to the production of more waste, especially plastic litter, which degrades the area’s nature. Lack of toilet facilities in some tourist destinations has been another major issue in the region.

Therefore, it should be the top priority of the government to make a tourism plan by allocating enough budget to promote ecotourism in GB. Plantation drives, mitigation of soil erosion, promotion of green energy, ecotourism, and no-plastic campaigns could help in climate change mitigation. Furthermore, it is important to raise awareness campaigns to the local population about the impact of climate change and the value of taking both individual and group action to overcome the impact of climate change. In this regard government and Environmental organizations especially, WWF-Pakistan is actively contributing towards climate change mitigation and coping with environmental challenges in the region.

ETS.CONFINT was used to calculate the confidence interval for future predicted values based on a series of historical data. The linear line on the graph shows the average forecast of domestic tourist flow in Gilgit Baltistan.

The contributor is an intern at WWF-Pakistan, Project Site office Hunza. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.


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