Tourism in Ladakh Causing Waste Management Issues

Ladakh! The name makes you picture a land known for its pristine beauty. A place with simple people, untouched sights and surroundings that are native and exclusive to Ladakh. No wonder then that this spectacular place has become a favourite tourist destination among many.

Now one would say that this is great for a place that mainly survives on agriculture. That the boost to the tourism industry has opened up several avenues of income for the locals and things couldn’t have  been better. But something that has been silently affected all along is Ladakh’s ecology.

The ecology of the Ladakh is extremely fragile and the environment has taken a backseat resulting in problems such as climate change, water scarcity and even solid waste management.

Earlier, the government used to encourage its people to invite tourists to their homes a-la home-stays. This was because tourism had just started to pick up and there were no guesthouses to accommodate them. But now with the influx of tourists equalling to at least 30,000 a year, the number of guesthouses and hotels have also increased radically. And while the tourism industry has got a major boost, this has resulted in problems for the local ecology.

Tourism has brought with itself a flood of packaged food and water. The garbage, as a result, comprises of non-biodegradable wastes like cans, bottles, plastics etc. A place that used to depend on naturally available food and water, Ladakh is now unable to deal with the massive amount of waste being generated. It has no proper solid waste management system in position and this is proving to be a genuine issue for the administration. Not only the shop-owners but even the locals have resorted to piling their garbage on the side of the streets. These are either collected by man-powered wheel barrows or garbage trucks to be dumped in another area or they’re left to be as it is. Some locals are even resorting to burning their garbage, the outcome of which is the emission of harmful smokes. Hence, with no proper recycling system or an eco-friendly arrangement in place, the natural eco-system of the place is going in for a toss.

People have started to awaken to this issue and while no major solution has been hit upon, there are those who are doing their bit. The first step that is being taken is that of generating awareness. A lot of credible non-government organizations function in Ladakh and they’re doing whatever they can to educate locals about the problem of solid waste management. Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) is one organization that carried out an awareness campaign last June. As part of this campaign, a clean-up drive was conducted in the area of Khardung-la, the highest pass in the world. A large number of volunteers including locals and school children were part of this drive that was started out to educate shopkeepers and locals alike. In addition, even trekking groups have started paying attention to this problem. They encourage their trekkers to bring back all the garbage that is generated over the days so that it is properly disposed. The administration has also gone ahead and banned the use of plastic bags. The Ladakh Confluence, a four-day music festival, held in August last year also concentrated in raising social awareness about the environment through workshops, seminars and film screenings.

Ladakh is slowly and steadily making changes in its tourism structure and hoping to even enlighten the tourists who come to enjoy the sanctity of the place. It will take a long time for things to get back into place considering that this is just the beginning. Awareness and studies need to be conducted on a larger scale and laws need to be imposed. Keeping in mind that the ecology of Ladakh is a very delicate one, actions in its favour shouldn’t be delayed.

Meghna Menon

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