• Biodiversity and sustainable tourism in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

    Ramesh Tiwari
    May 22, 2017

    Janita Gurung and Anu Kumari Lama  —

    Biodiversity is the basis for many tourism activities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). Scenic landscapes, forests, lakes, mountains, and farmlands attract many tourists to the region. Iconic bird and animal species are also major attractions.

    The snow leopard is a flagship mountain species found in the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Himalaya ranges spanning across Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. Although an elusive animal, the snow leopard draws many tourists to these mountain ranges.

    The naturally dammed lakes of Band-e-Amir National Park in Afghanistan attract tourists from all over the world to the country’s Bamyan Province. In Pakistan’s Gilgit Baltistan, the prospect of trophy hunting markhor, a wild goat famed for its twisted horns, attracts many tourists each year. In China’s Hongyuan Grassland in Sichuan Province, highland pastures showcase aspects of the nomadic Tibetan lifestyle to tourists.

    As its name suggests, the Valley of Flowers in India’s Uttarakhand State attracts numerous tourists with its diversity of flowers, of which there are more than 500 species that include wild poppies, asters, and orchids, among others. The one-horned rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, attracts more than 100,000 tourists every year.

    In Bhutan’s Phobjika Valley, the black-necked crane festival, organized annually since 1998, plays an important role in attracting tourists to the country, particularly during the month of November. Inle Lake, with its stilt houses, floating markets, and floating gardens, is an important tourist destination in Myanmar.

    Tradition and tourism

    Biodiversity plays an integral role in the daily lives of indigenous peoples in the HKH. Biodiversity is a source of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine for many communities. Interestingly, such traditional uses of biodiversity form the very essence of tourism in many places in the HKH.

    The residents of Hunza Valley in Pakistan rely on organically grown local food, which is believed to contribute to their long life and good health. Hunza apricots, in particular, are now popular among visitors to the valley, and a taste of the traditional apricot soup, Haneetze Duodo, is an essential culinary element in the Hunza Valley tour itinerary.

    Almost two centuries ago, the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya, northeast India, learned to train the roots of rubber trees to build sturdy bridges that could survive many years in a wet and humid environment. Some of these bridges continue to survive, and today, experiencing these ‘living’ bridges is a must for many tourists visiting Meghalaya.

    The use of plants and animals in traditional medicine dates back many centuries to the practice of Ayurveda. In the high mountain regions of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Tibet Autonomous Region in China, this traditional medicinal practice is known as Sowa-Rigpa. Many travelers visit the HKH to practice and learn these ancient medical techniques. For the slightly curious visitor, a tour of the National Institute of Traditional Medicine in Thimphu, Bhutan, could be most enlightening.

    Leaving behind footprints

    While it is biodiversity that attracts tourists, tourism itself can have a significant negative impact on biodiversity. Tourism infrastructure, including buildings, campsites, roads, trails, and bridges are sometimes constructed in pristine areas by clearing vegetation and excavating land. These activities can potentially lead to biodiversity loss.

    The practice of collecting wild plants and animals either by local communities to sell to tourists for food or souvenirs, or by the tourists themselves, is also likely to put pressure on biodiversity. Mushroom, fern, bamboo shoot, fish, and wild honey are some natural products that, if not sustainably harvested, face the threat of resource depletion.

    Tourism is also responsible for the introduction of many alien species ie, plants or animals that do not naturally occur in a given environment. They may be intentionally introduced: for instance, new fish species may be introduced to a natural lake to promote fishing, or flowers and trees may be planted for ornamental, economic, or functional purposes. Or, they may be accidentally introduced: the seeds or spores of some plants may be transported to new areas via vehicle tires or visitors’ luggage, clothes, and shoes. Alien species that proliferate in these new environments, ie those species that become invasive, can outcompete local, naturally occurring species, resulting in ecological changes, including biodiversity loss.

    Solid waste and its mismanagement are serious threats resulting from tourism in the HKH. Since the turn of the century, Mount Everest has gained notoriety for the waste that mountaineers have left behind after their expeditions. Other tourist destinations in the HKH also face similar challenges not only from solid waste, but also from sewerage. Discharge from toxic solid wastes and inadequately treated sewerage can seep into the ground and pollute groundwater and other water bodies. This affects not only biodiversity such as fish and aquatic plants, but also local residents—and tourists— who rely on groundwater for domestic or agricultural purposes.

    Turning over a new leaf

    Understanding that biodiversity is the basis for many tourism activities in the HKH is conducive to ensuring that this tourism base is maintained in the long term. There are already proven conservation success stories interlinked with tourism. For example, revenue from tourism has contributed to reviving populations of markhors in Pakistan, rhinos in Nepal, and black-necked cranes in Bhutan.

    National policies are in place in the HKH to conserve natural resources that form the basis for tourism. Moreover, global guidelines have also been developed to achieve sustainable tourism development. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development provide a framework to make tourism and biodiversity more mutually supportive. The engagement of the private sector and local communities is especially necessary for the promotion of tourism based on the sustainable use of biodiversity.

    Such an approach benefits both local communities who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, in addition to tourism, as well as travelers who are now increasingly favouring tourism that is both environmentally and culturally friendly.

    With nearly 71.5 million tourists visiting every year, tourism in the HKH plays a potentially significant role in addressing poverty through the creation of jobs, skills, and income for thousands of people. Meanwhile, conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity is essential for providing long term benefits to the region’s residents.

    ( Janita Gurung  is Biodiversity Conservation and Management Specialist, and Anu Kumari Lama  is Tourism Specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD.)

    May 22 , 2017

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      News Brief

      Kabul: Afghan security forces have regained control of Intercontinental Hotel, hours after the gunmen burst into the hotel shooting at guests and staff. At least five civilians were killed and six were injured in the siege. Three of the attackers have been killed and more than 150 guests were rescued. No group has said it carried out the attack, but the Taliban targeted the Intercontinental hotel in 2011.

      Beijing: China’s economy grew by 6.9% in 2017 according to official data – the first time in seven years the pace of growth has picked up. The figure beats Beijing’s official annual expansion target of about 6.5%. Gross domestic product (GDP) totaled 82.71 trillion yuan (about 12.84 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2017, with the service sector accounting for more than half of the total.

      Shanghai: China Eastern Airlines and other domestic airlines have begun to allow mobile phone use on their aircraft or announced plans to lift a ban. China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines began to allow passengers to use portable electronic devices (PED), such as smartphones and tablets.China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines announced they would allow mobile phone use on all their flights this week. – Agencies

      2017 in review -Top stories

      January 1 : New year nightclub attack leaves 39 dead in Istanbul
      January 20 : Republican billionaire Donald Trump sworn in as 45th US president
      January 23 : Syria peace talks begin in Kazakh capital Astana
      March 29 :United Kingdom officially launches the Brexit process
      April 4 :Syria launches chemical attack killing 90 people
      April 6 : US cruise missiles destroy Syrian air base
      April 9 : Bombings at two churches in Egypt kill dozens
      April 16 : Refugee death toll passes 1,000 in Mediterranean
      April 16 :Turkey says YES to presidential system
      May 6 :Emmanuel Macron elected French president defeating Marine Le Pen
      May 19 :Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani wins re-election
      May 22 : Terrorist attack kills 22 at Manchester concert
      June 5 : Gulf nations severe ties with Qatar
      June 7 :Suicide bombers attack Iranian parliament killing 13 people
      June 14 :London fire kills 71 in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower
      July 4 :North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s missile ambitions
      July 28 : Pakistan’s top court disqualifies Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office
      August 5 :US withdraws from Paris climate change pact
      August 17 :Storms cause record damage in Caribbean and southern United States
      August 25 :Muslim Rohingya start fleeing Rakhine state in Myanmar
      September 15 : NASA’s 13-year Saturn mission ends
      September 20 : Earthquake kills more than 200 in Mexico
      September 24 : Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wins fourth term
      September 26 : Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving
      October 1 : Gunman opens fire on Las Vegas music festival killing 59 people
      October 14 : Massive bombing in Somalia’s capital Modadishu kill more than 500 people
      October 24 : China confirms the elevation of President Xi Jinping to the same status as the nation’s founder, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, by enshrining ‘Xi Jinping thought’ in the party’s constitution at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
      October 27 : Catalonia declares independence from Spain
      November 4 : S audi Arabia detains 11 princes, four ministers and ten former ministers in a corruption probe
      November 12 : Iran-Iraq magnitude 7.3 earthquake kills more than 500
      November 15 : Argentine navy submarine disappears with 44 crew on board
      November 21 : Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years in power. His former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa will become president.
      November 22 : Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic convicted of genocide in Srebrenica during the 1990s Bosnian War
      November 24 : Gunmen kill hundreds at Sinai mosque in Egypt
      December 4 : Houthi militants assassinate Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh
      December 5 : Russia banned from 2018 Winter Olympics for state-sponsored doping
      December 6 : US President Donald Trump recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
      December 17 : Price of one bitcoin reaches a new high of $19,783.06 dollars
      December 21 : Yemen’s cholera outbreak
      December 22 : Syria peace talks in Astana (compiled)

      Top ten most visited cities

      Between January and August 2017, destinations worldwide welcomed 901 million international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors), 56 million more than in the same period of 2016 .The top ten most visited cities are:
      HONG KONG26.6 million
      BANGKOK 21.2 million
      LONDON19.2 million
      SINGAPORE16.6 million
      MACAU15.4 million
      DUBAI14.9 million
      PARIS14.4 million
      NEW YORK12.7 million
      SHENZHEN12.6 million
      KUALA LUMPUR12.3 million

      Source: Euromonitor International

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