Lofty but fragile

Published June 28, 2022

PAKISTAN is set for its busiest mountaineering season in over a decade, with over 1,400 climbers from across the world attempting to scale its majestic peaks. As many as 700 permits have already been issued to international climbers — surpassing last year’s 550. Not since the 9/11 attacks in the US and the subsequent ‘war on terror’, which made Pakistan a no-go area for foreign visitors, has the country seen such numbers. Earlier this month, a report released by the World Economic Forum showed Pakistan had risen by six points in the International Travel and Tourism Development Index and the country seems to be luring back tourists every year. Home to five of the world’s 14 eight-thousander peaks, Pakistan’s mountain wilderness has always been alluring. K2, the world’s second-highest peak, is the main attraction and 400 climbing permits have already been issued for it. The influx of tourists, of course, opens up opportunities for locals as well as their businesses. Around 3,000 porters have already been engaged by various expeditions, and more will be required once other climbers arrive. The tourism ministry claims it has beefed up ground and aerial rescue teams in case of any untoward incident.

However, it is a delicate balance. Mountains are extremely fragile ecosystems, and most sensitive to climate change and the impact of human activities. Nepal’s Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, is already counting the cost of increased tourism. Microplastic pollution has increased manifold, creating issues for the environment. Authorities in Nepal are looking at moving the Everest base camp situated at the Khumbu glacier, which is rapidly thinning due to global warming and increasing human activity. There are lessons to be learned, and Pakistan needs a proper waste management system in its own mountainous areas. This should go hand in hand with an awareness programme on how crucial it is to protect these sensitive regions. It is imperative to ensure that the uptick in the numbers of foreign tourists does not come at a cost to the environment.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2022

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