Experts urge inclusive and responsible winter sports strategy

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Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said we see no baseline study for winter sports or even for summer tourism. Wildlife habitats are disturbed by some influential ones while mountaineering expeditions left their waste in our mountains and no one seems concerned about it. 

DNA

Islamabad – Speaking at a webinar the experts urged for an inclusive and integrated winter sports strategy to attract tourism towards northern Pakistan. Environment and climate change shall remain the main concern while devising any sports events for the winter season. It is the hibernation and mating time for wildlife and biodiversity while massive human activities would disturb their lifecycle.

Unplanned massive interventions are becoming hazards to the local environment and communities besides the biological diversity loss. A fistful influential ones are enjoying at the cost of millions of people while the poor communities are not only deprived of their local environment, heritage and natural resources, they are also not getting anything in return.

The experts also showed their concerns on the unwise decisions of the Gilgit-Baltistan government to open Deosai National Park for the winter sports from March this year. They said millions of dollars have been spent on the conservation and protection of the wildlife habitats and biological diversity in the Deosai National Park that are being put on risk. The participants urged the Supreme Court of Pakistan, national and international development organizations to take notice of it.

The webinar was organized by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) and DTN to brainstorm on “Winter Sports – Scope, Opportunities and Challenges” on Sunday. The panelists included National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) member and sustainable tourism expert Aftab ur Rehman Rana, National Tourism Coordination Board convener on adventure sports Shahid Nadeem, WWf-Pakistan Senior Director Wildlife Rab Nawaz, another WWFS-Pakistan Senior Director Tahir Rasheed, EvK2CR Environment Conservation Expert Arif Hussain, Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed. Others who spoke on the occasion included RCCI travel and tourism expert Fouzia Qazi, The Adventure Club president Tahir Imran Khan, journalist Zubair Ayub, development experts Umme Kulsoom and Sabeena Hena Iqbal, Baltistan Association of Tour Operators (BATO) chairman Muhammad Iqbal, and Lion Sarfaraz Malik.

Aftab ur Rehman Rana said we have seen mushroom growth of winter sports in recent years without any planning and strategy. No one is really interested in taking care of nature, biodiversity and wildlife. Winter is the rest-time for nature and wildlife that descends from their original habitats but found no space for mating and hibernation downwards. Excessive winter sports are hazardous to nature and an undue pressure on the forest resources. Winter resorts meant for adventure sports are being shut worldwide to reduce pressure on nature and climatic conditions. We are unwisely supporting everything blindly.

WWF-Pakistan Senior Director Rab Nawaz said all activities are being conducted in isolation and without considering environmental concerns and hazards to nature and wildlife. Government should take the lead in developing an inclusive and integrated approach toward conducting winter and adventure sports. Environmental organizations are not against anything but everything we take up should be sustainable and nature friendly. We talk about communities but exclude them from planning to the implementation. Outdoor activities are healthy for human beings, they should be healthy for the environment too.

Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said communities are getting nothing out of what monetary benefits generated in their names and at the cost of their local resources that are crucial too for the people living downstream. We see no baseline study for the winter sports or even for the summer tourism. International mountaineering expeditions come to scale the peaks and leave their garbage and waste in our mountains and no one seems concerned about it. The highlands too are being spoiled with the constructions in the name of ‘strategic needs’ which are highly toxic for nature and natural resources. The federal and provincial government should promote responsible and sustainable tourism putting a price tag on the environmental services for tourism and adventure sports.

Tahir Rasheed, another senior director WWF Pakistan, said all stakeholders need to sit together to develop an inclusive strategy for winter sports. The site shall be selected keeping in view the wildlife needs of hibernation and mating. Communities should be part of the planning and profit sharing.

EvK2CNR conservation expert Arif Hussain said winter sports have increased in recent years in different parts of northern Pakistan. We need to have a strategy to regularize and integrate the events with the conservation efforts. He said the GB government is interested to explore the possibilities of adventure and winter sports where the EvK2CNR is helping them in Deosai National Park and in other parts. He said they have no resources to continue with the massive cleanup of the high mountains while there is no check on the mountaineering expeditions.

Tahir Imran Khan said there is no winter sports policy or any regulatory body while the adventure enthusiasts lack training, support and infrastructure. Some high-end customers are playing with the natural resources and creating hazards for the locals and the national environment security. Federal government should come up with an inclusive plan. Many are the no-go areas and the adventure enthusiasts have to get NOC for which they have to wait for months.