Tourism threatening wetlands in Ladakh

May 8th, 2009 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu, May 8 (IANS) Global warming coupled with “unplanned tourist activities” are threatening the existence of high altitude Himalayan wetlands, particularly those in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, says an environment expert.
Ladakh has three main high altitude wetlands - Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tokhar.

“Major challenges to the high altitude wetlands of Ladakh include unplanned and unregulated tourism, tourist season coinciding with peak biological activity, tremendous grazing pressure, emerging threat of climate change and lack of coordination among various developmental agencies,” said Pankaj Chandan, India coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Himalayan High Altitude Wetlands Conservation Project.

Giving a lecture in Jammu University Thursday, Chandan said that the high altitude wetlands of Jammu and Kashmir not only support the unique biodiversity in the region but are also a source of livelihood for the local communities.

He said at the regional level these wetlands also act as source of major rivers and support millions of people in the downstream regions.

“Forty percent of the world’s population is dependent on water coming from Himalayas,” Chandan noted.

Speaking on challenges and difficulties in working in areas like Ladakh, he said that in high altitude regions the working season is very short and conservation outcome also depends on the political situation.

He said ownership of the conservation activities should be given to the local communities, the projects should be related to economic incentives, and conservation should also help in improving the livelihood of poor and vulnerable communities.

What is most interesting about the WWF initiative for the conservation and management of Ladakh high altitude wetland is that it has started involving Indian troops at the wetland sites.

“Training workshops for officers of the armed forces are being organised. One training programme after every alternate year is being organised in Ladakh for the army, air force, ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police), BRO (Border Roads Organisation) and state police,” said Chandan.

“The process of training the officers has been institutionalised. Many officers who were trained are contributing in conservation in other parts of India as well,” he added.

He said there are also regular training programmes for tour operators, who even organise annual cleaning of camping sites in Ladakh.

Himalayan car rallies in wetland areas have been stopped with the help of travel agencies.

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