Himalayas in danger of becoming a giant rubbish dump
Source: Guardian, Sep 2011
Nepal wants to lift itself out of poverty by expanding its tourism industry but there is no strategy for waste disposal
There’s nothing like waking up to bright clear skies with spectacular views of the Lhotse and Amu Dablam ranges – and a rubbish dump.
This heap of beer cans, mineral water bottles and other material was just a few minutes’ walk outside the village of Tengboche. It represents about a season’s rubbish.
The dump is not on the regular trekking trails which are, aside from the stray Fanta and instant noodle wrapper, admirably clean. And most trekkers have no idea of their impact on the remote Everest landscape, said Alton Byers, who is leading our expedition as director of the Mountain Institute.
But the dump exposes the risks of Nepal’s strategy of lifting itself out of poverty by expanding its tourism industry. “At this altitude and in this environment, this [rubbish] will be here for 1,000 years,” Byers said.
The government has declared 2011 Nepal tourism year, and has sought to double the number of visitors to 1 million. But can remote communities handle those numbers? Only a fraction of tourists to Nepal make it to the Everest region – about 31,000 last year.
But those numbers are already taxing local villages. In high season, which runs from mid-September through December, it can be hard to find a room on some of the trekking routes.
It’s even harder to clean up after the trekkers once they are gone. “Thirty years ago, there was no garbage. There was no plastic,” said Byers. Now, he said: “we see this in every village all the way up to Everest base camp.”
Even the village of Namche Bazaar, the biggest in the region, does not have a waste treatment system. Sewage from the 45 lodges is dumped directly into a canal, which eventually feeds into the Khosi river, according to Orenlla Puschiasis, a researcher from the University of Paris West-Nanterre, who is working on water quality in the region.
“There is nothing sustainable about it,” she said. “To be sustainable they have to think about the future and manage the waste and the sewage water.”
Trekking companies are supposed to carry their rubbish out with them – but most do not. Lodge operators balk at the idea of paying to cart out beer cans by yak. And even if they do carry the rubbish down to Kathmandu, what then? There is no developed recycling industry in Nepal – not even in Kathmandu.
Maybe it’s time for some waste treatment plants right in the Everest region.