Eco-tourism in Nepal and the Annapurna Area: a wrong impression ?

You may think that trekking is a purely environment friendly activity …but this may also lead to strong negative effects on the environment: Nepal is a good example of the environmental impact of uncontrolled tourism to natural areas

(Extracts from WWF articles)

Tourism is one of the main sources of foreign exchange income for Nepal. Each year, over 36,000 trekkers and 36,000 porters visit the Annapurna region which supports 40,000 local inhabitants.

About 60 per cent of these trekkers come during four months of the year. They are concentrated in few places, resulting in devastating impacts on both local cultural and natural environments.
Forest is cleared each year to construct hotels, lodges and furniture and to provide fuel for cooking, hot showers and campfires. 400,000 hectares of forest are cleared each year. This is a deforestation rate of three per cent per year. One hectare of cleared forests loses 30-75 tons of soil annually. This has led to devastating landslides and floods.

86 per cent of Nepal’s energy comes from forests. In the Annapurna virtually everybody depends on fuelwood for cooking as there are no alternative sources of energy. The total daily wood consumption by and on behalf of each trekker equals the amount used by a Nepalese family of five for a week.

Tree lines have been raised and entire ridges previously cloaked in rhododendron (one of the attractions of the area and Nepal’s national flower) denuded. Few trees are left within the Annapurna Sanctuary itself.

Virtually all food and housekeeping items have to be imported from Kathmandu and elsewhere, inflating local economies and introducing non-nutritious diets.
Inadequate sanitation facilities and indiscriminate practices by tourists and trekking groups have left virtual ‘minefields’ of human excreta and toilet paper. Toilets, if they exist at all, are often dangerously close to water sources. Non-biodegradable litter such as plastics, tins and bottles, used primarily by tourists, are disposed of in nearby streams or strewn in piles at the edge of the settlements.

Tourism, as a messenger of outside values and behaviours, has also affected local cultures. Village youths are easy prey to the seductiveness of Western consumer culture as tourists are laden with expensive trappings: hi-tech hiking gear, flashy clothes, cameras and electronic goods.
The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) was established in 1986 as a response to the above problems. The project, implemented by the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (NGO), addresses three main aspects simultaneously: nature conservation, human development and tourism management.

ACAP strives to ensure that the beneficiaries from trekking tourism and conservation activities will be the local people, at the same time making them the guardians of their resources. The approach is that of a grassroots philosophy that strongly discourages a handout philosophy. As a result traditional subsistence activities are woven into a framework of sound resource management, supplemented by small scale conservation and alternative energy projects to minimise the impact of tourists and upgrade the local standard of living.

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