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Back to the future

Garam Chashma Diary

By Islamuddin
It may be a scientific fact or fiction that it takes 12 billion years for one Big Bang to complete its cycle to turn into nebula. It is said that 6 billion years have passed since the last Big Bang but the human component in this cycle runs into minuscule number of years in the 3 billion years segment of the organic cycle, which followed the 3 billion years inorganic cycle that preceded it. Other species that preceded human take over, lost their supremacy owing to their own self destructive behaviour and lack of capacity to make rational choices.The writing on the wall is clear that the same fate awaits the human segment of the planet’s evolution. Ironically the journey back to the future is being facilitated by human unworthiness to inherit and look after the planet and its inhabitants as sacred trust, in accordance with the Divine Purpose. The establishment of a specialized UN agency and its replication by His Highness in Chitral under the nomenclature of Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), though late in time, are stark reminders as to what has gone wrong. It is reflective of our shirking responsibility towards the blue planet and its inhabitants, linked together in food and life chains.
Though late in time but if implemented honestly, these might extend human life cycle by a few centuries. However, given the level of our mental bankruptcy, further exacerbated by shrinking resources, it appears to be hope against hope. Chitral and other mountain areas used to be repositories of water sources, feeding rivers, lakes and springs as source of drinking water. Global warming, resulting from excessive emissions of carbon and methane gases, has led to fast depletion of these water sources without replenishment which could have come from rain and snow. Climate change and deforestation have adversely affected the water cycle. The increasing trends to convert the planet crust into cement and concrete or denuded of forest coverage have stopped absorbtion of the occasional rain water into the ground to replenish our sub-soil water table to feed springs and tube wells. It is an indicator of the things to come that Chitral has not received snow fall even in December and the few flakes falling down have melted, which is unprecedented and frightening. Hopefully with new efforts at plantation and fuel substitution the process can be slowed down.
Chitral’s subsistence economy comprised rudimentary agriculture and cattle farming but the disappearing forests and pastures, coupled with natural disaters, have undermined this economy as well. With population increase and dwindling arable land, tourism happens to be its engine for economic growth but given the lack of tourism infrastructure and enterprising spirit, local people will be left behind, once this sector is developed. At present the over-riding security considerations militate against tourism. Many tourist attractions in the border areas like Gobor and Kalasha are out of bound for tourists without being overseen. Recreation tourists want privacy and freedom and when these are denied, tourists seldom venture to go to such areas. Ironically all the tourist destination lack basic facilities like public toilets and decent affordable accommodations. The absence of reliable road and communication infrastructures are other disincentives for tourism. The vulnerable and disaster prone eco-system, coupled with unprecedented pollution, is yet another disincentive.
With the establishment of connectivity via Internet and Lowari Tunnel, Chitral can discover itself as ultimate tourist destination, even at the fag end of the current human life cycle, if the following measures are adopted:
(1)-Adventure(trekking and mountaineering), recreational, religious, health, festival, cultural and winter tour sites may be identified and developed. At present there are no reliable roads and infrastructure facilities in the identified sites like Garam Chashma and Kalasha valleys.
(2)-Tourism compliant laws and mindset may be promoted, strengthened and implemented with honesty. Visa on arrival at the port of entry may be arranged and the process of police verification may be made more subtle and quick. Dedicated transport to identified tourist sites may be arranged to promote internal tourism. People at tourist places may be educated to treat the tourists fairly and not to fleece them. Tourists need privacy and comfort, which must be ensured.
(3)- Soft loans for tourism may be arranged. Awareness and training programs for tour related jobs may be initiated. Training in enterprise development may be imparted to Chitrali youth to make them risk takers, which is at the heart of entrepreneurship but is sadly lacking among Chitralis. The lost spirit of cooperation and cooperative spirit may be revived to help Chitralis to join hands like the businessmen of Northern Areas on the aftermath of KKH, failing which Chitral will be taken over by outsiders rendering Chitralis into Red Indians on their own land.
(4)-In the media age, importance of marketing and publicity cannot be denied. Tour operators of Chitral may join hands to finance aggressive promotional activities and advocacy. They should give leadership in developing joint ventures.They should develop linkages with environmental forums and the youth to launch cleanliness drives on tour sites and invite government attention towards developing facilities including public toilets. Untill dedicated accommodation for tourists is developed, local population may be encouraged to take in tourists as paying guests in the pattern of Austrian or German “zimmers”.
(5)-The benefits from tourism can be maximized and made accessible for the general public, by promoting cultural products like cultural food, clothing, music and handicrafts. It would be in the fitness of things if our hotels lead the way by offering cultural food and also put up outlets in their premises to display and sell cultural products.
(6)-The biggest assets of Chitral are its crystal blue water and and scenic beauty. Our rivers used to be breeding ground for trout fish, which have now been polluted to the extent of becoming poisonous for the trout. The responsibility to keep the rivers clean rests with the government under the River Protection Act and Notification of 1975. As the government has abdicated itself from this responsibility, it is time that NGOs like AKAH should come forward to protect the fragile eco-system. Erection of check dams in upland areas can reduce silting on river beds which causes flooding. Local government institutions may utilize their resources for solid waste management making solid as well as liquid waste disposal into the rivers illegal and punishable with imprisonment and heavy fines. Cutting of trees in upland areas may be stopped and plantation drive launched on war footing but such plants should be environment friendly, having been planted after environment compliance test.

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