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Watch all that waste!

Leh, Sun, 21 Aug 2011 ANI

Leh, Aug 21 (ANI): Ladakh has been gradually climbing out of the devastation that struck in August last year when a cloudburst over Leh resulted in massive quantities of water pouring down from the sky on a sleeping population.


What followed as was watched by the world in horror were massive mudslides destroying in its wake, homes, fields, roads, and hospitals. People perished, many were rendered homeless, many injured.he months following were in a sense a painful coming to terms with the tragedy, the stages of reconstruction and rehabilitation, which is always marked by a sense of inadequacy, of hope, of despair and sometimes of elation. What has been disturbing for most Ladakhis is the thought of the long-term effect on the region, its economy, on the livelihoods of people.


Most people survive on agriculture here, which was affected with fields being inundated, filled with mud and stones and virtually rendered unproductive. But what has been also worrying is the effect of the disaster on the tourist traffic, which keeps the wheels of its economy oiled in a limited but significant way.


Tourism in this hauntingly beautiful, pristine terrain has been a big draw for both Indians and foreigners. A multitude of services and trades give the local population a chance to earn a living with hotels, tours, shops and transport trades getting a fillip before Ladakh virtually shuts down for the winters. It is small wonder then that tourists throng here.


Ladakh's unique tapestry of history and culture, its imposing monasteries, palaces and stupas, its stark landscape, bright blue skies are simply dazzling. For the adventure minded, the call of the mountains is irresistible. Trekking routes through spectacular locales, campsites amidst breathtaking beauty and just breathing in that crisp pure air is what keeps the tourist flow going through the summers.


But there is a dark side of the moon and the ugliness is becoming visible now. Ask any first time visitor. It is not the raw beauty of the land that strikes you but also the piles of garbage that seem to invade all streets and corners of Leh. Up in the mountains, even the stunning trekking routes are littered with trash. Agreed that tourism is a double-edged sword in any locale especially in this high altitude desert in the Himalayan region, which has a fragile ecology.


For centuries the region has remained cut-off from outside travelers, thus retaining its natural environment in all its purity. In the mid 70's, it was opened up for tourism and there has been no looking back. Tourist traffic has grown over the past few decades reaching an astounding 30,000 visitors in a year.


This has naturally increased the volume and kinds of rubbish in the region. Travel agents looking for quick and easy tours prefer to stock up on packaged food for their group. There are cans, bottles, foil, and tissue paper; all this comes along with the huge benefits that tourism brings to Ladakh.


Who is responsible? The knee-jerk reaction of any local would be to blame the tourists, the multitudes who make their way in the summer months leaving behind their footprint. But then is that the full picture? Is the tourist that is to blame entirely for the situation? No, of course not. The locals are complicit, in a sense they set the tone for the state of affairs. The tendency is to clean one's own homes, yards or shops and throw out the garbage in the street. One can imagine the extent of garbage created by the 500 odd shops in Leh!


These are not the only factors. There is one underlying one which is probably at the root of all the rot. There is no system of garbage collection, infact of waste management in this beautiful, pristine terrain. In several other parts of the country I have visited, there are garbage bins which are regularly collected by municipalities, taken to a landfill probably a little outside the city or town. This then is dealt with following due process so that it does not harm the environment.


But in Ladakh known as the 'Roof of the World', there are heaps of garbage piled up along the road, which are then carted to rubbish dumps by wheelbarrows and trucks. Very often locals burn the garbage themselves. It is much more than an eyesore in Leh. Particles from the rubbish dumps are picked up by sometimes-strong winds and swept onto the mountainside. Lakes and streams are affected which can lead to forming of noxious substances.


There are many lapses. Home stays, which are popular with tourists, prefer to use bottled water rather than boiled water to their guests. Simple arithmetic works here. The Ladakhi homes that offer their hospitality to tourists for a fee make money on bottled water, which are destructive for the environment.


In Ladakh there is no shortage of space. There are plenty of places outside a city like Leh to develop landfills. Instead we have dumping grounds for garbage very close to habitations. Rather than letting it fly across the pristine mountains, why can't we get our act together and deal with the garbage, which has unfortunately become an integral part of our landscape?


There is a lack of awareness amongst the people. The authorities too seem to be out of step with this glaring need. Organisations like Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LeDeg) have started initiatives to spread awareness, inculcate a civic sense as well as of preserving the environment. But they remain a drop in the ocean.


Improper waste disposal can be dangerous thing, for the health of the people polluting the very elements that we depend on for survival, water, air, and land. Don't we who belong to this place, the people, the authorities and anyone who cares have a responsibility to not only keep it clean but to protect the environment for posterity and for maintaining harmony in nature?


The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that a wake-up call is urgently needed. Is anyone listening? By Stanzin Kunzang Angmo (ANI)


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