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Shandur festival and beyond

Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan 

Shandur polo festival which is ordinarily held during the first week of July every year is reportedly being held from 28-30 June this year. The event provides an opportunity to majority of the festival-goers and entertainment-starved public to get away from the daily grind and humdrum existence, thus allowing them to enjoy different events of the festival culminating on a thrilling polo match between the traditional rival teams, i.e. Chitral A and Gilgit A.

Every year thousands of spectators including foreign tourists throng Shandur to attend the polo festival. This is a unique festival of its kind which is held on the highest polo ground of the world so far recorded in history, and is located at an altitude of 12250 feet above sea level. The free-style polo match which makes the chief event of the festival, attracts thousands of tourists from all over the globe.

The festival has both its positives and negatives with the latter outweighing the former as it causes environmental disaster of epic proportions. In my today’s write-up, I would be mainly focusing on the negative impacts of this festival on the environment as its positives are quite manifest to all and sundry.

The negative impact of this festival and its attendant evils on the pristine purity of natural environment of Shandur and its majestic surroundings shouldn’t be underestimated. According to a conservative estimate, the festival produces around 100 tonnes of garbage/waste which remains lying in the area throughout polluting the atmosphere and spreading viral diseases due to lack of proper mechanism for its disposal. The relevant authorities who are primarily responsible to protect the environment are least bothered about the menace and are hardly conscious of the gravity of the situation with public complaints falling on deaf ears. Resultantly, it wreaks havoc with the natural environment and brings about disaster for the local people in the shape of viral diseases spread around besides divesting them of their precious livestock/cattle which are left free for grazing on the vast pastures of Shandur during summer but die after eating the waste scattered around. Those whose livestock die due to inaction and gross negligence of the government must be duly compensated.

Moreover, thousands of vehicles used by the tourists to reach the destination emit smokes/carbon dioxide, thus polluting the atmosphere to the core. For Mother Nature, the damage caused by these uncontrolled hedonistic events is unimaginable. As mentioned earlier, the biggest source of carbon emissions causing air pollution comes from the exhaust fumes of the vehicles, mostly old vehicles of out-dated model used by majority of the festival-goers when arriving and departing the venue. But good news is that according to reports, this time around, chopper service is being provided to the desirous tourists.

As said earlier, around 100 tonnes of waste/garbage are generated at the end of the festival every year. Much of this comprises plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, plastic-made food trays and food leftovers/remains as well as microplastic pollution in the form of glitter used for tent decoration and toiletries.

Interestingly, but quite unfortunately, the Chief guest in his tailor-made closing address to the spectators which contains all kinds of hollow claims promising the captive audience the moon would read it out verbatim but wouldn’t utter even a single phrase to impress upon the audience/spectators to keep the environment clean and pollution free and avoid throwing litters around.

There is an intense need to create awareness among the spectators/tourists and the public at large regarding the devastating impact of this man-made environmental pollution. In this connection, major responsibility lies with the provincial governments of KPK and GB besides Pakistan Tourism Department to launch awareness campaign among the public and prescribe strict punitive steps to be taken against the perpetrators.

Moreover, spectators/agents of environmental pollution can make a difference by exhibiting sense of responsibility and by taking simple measures to reduce their own individual negative impact on the planet, thus producing a collective positive results on a sizable scale. These measures include taking away all belongings and rubbish at the end of the festival instead of throwing them around.

Last but not the least, the district administration of Chitral, both Lower and Upper Chitral and the district administration of Ghizer are required to make a proper plan to dispose of the garbage left after the festival. They need to realize that if the issue remains unresolved, the beautiful Shandur will lose its natural beauty and grandeur and would become a place full of filth and garbage, thus leaving no attraction for the tourists both domestic and foreign. It’s a clarion call for both the provincial governments to take necessary measures to save Shandur from ecological disaster without losing further time.

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