The World Wetlands Day theme for 2012 was, ‘Wetlands and Tourism’. At least 35 per cent of Ramsar sites around the world record some level of tourism activity. – Photo by Sarah Farooqui / Dawn.com

In areas of natural attractions, ecotourism is often used as the primary justification for developing hotels/motels and other facilities, mainly because of its socio-economic benefits.

If ecotourism can be made more effective by involving local inhabitants in tourism activities.

Usually, rural populations living closest to ecotourism resorts have very low incomes, having a very few viable economic options. Ecotourism can represent for these people a valid economic alternative, with the additional advantage that these inhabitants, through effective education and orientation, can be converted into efficient wardens and conservationists of these natural areas. Their welfare and quality of life depends on preserving their natural environment.

Ecotourism, also called ‘nature tourism,’ is a recent phenomenon in Pakistan. It is distinguished from mass tourism or resort tourism by having a lower impact on the environment and by requiring less infrastructure development.

The World Wetlands Day theme for 2012 was, ‘Wetlands and Tourism’. At least 35 per cent of Ramsar sites around the world record some level of tourism activity and this percentage is consistent throughout all regions. Wetlands and their wildlife are a key part of the global tourism experience. Local communities and local governments can and often do benefit in terms of income and employment. .

The wetland itself can benefit directly when the income from tourism through entry fees, local products, etc. is used directly for conservation of the wetland, thus linking tourism with long-term conservation. Income can be used for training local guides and tour operators so that they understand the key features of the wetland and can explain simple conservation measures to the tourists they are responsible for and at the same time modify their own operations to minimise their impact on the natural resource. Tourism businesses can give a great deal of support to sustaining biodiversity in wetlands and other ecosystems.

Despite its arid climate, Pakistan supports over 780,000 ha of wetlands covering 9.7 per cent of the total land area, with 225 nationally significant wetlands, of which 19 have been recognised as Ramsar sites of global significance. It has a wide diversity of wetland, representing the run of the Indus River from the glaciers and high alpine lakes, through riverine and freshwater lakes to the coastal wetlands of the Indus Delta.

Water shortages and changing water availability across Pakistan are amongst the major causes of wetland loss and degradation. Without adequate water to maintain wetlands, they will disappear. If these ecosystem functions are lost through the degradation and encroachment of wetlands, Pakistan will lose important resources and be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Pakistan has already lost or degraded over 60 per cent of its inland wetlands.

There are still number of wetlands that meet the criteria for being declared the Ramsar sites such as Manchar, Hamal and Langh Lakes. However, the conditions of the existing Ramsar sites have deteriorated and need to be improved.

The author is associated with the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan

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