ISLAMABAD: Stating that the mountainous regions of Pakistan offer some of the most spectacular and fascinating landscapes and ecology in the world, a study released by the World Bank has warned that tourism in these areas is placing increasing stress on the local environment, leading to increased pollution, natural habitat loss and pressure on endangered species.

“These effects can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which tourism itself depends,” warned the study titled Pakistan: Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Mountain Areas.

According to the study, reliable estimates on the quantity and characteristics of waste are not readily available in mountain areas, as these vary significantly depending on tourism influx, regional characteristics, and seasonal factors. Additionally, mountain areas present unique challenges such as sudden spikes in the quantity of waste generated during tourist season, widely varying waste characteristics including a large volume of plastic and other special waste, and constraints of land availability for waste treatment and disposal, it says.

Pakistan has a rich mountain landscape, boasting some of the highest peaks and longest glaciers in the world. The Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas are all part of the country. Melting snow and meltwater from glaciers in the mountains also feed the country’s rivers, including the Indus, which is a key resource for Pakistan’s agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as for the country’s potable water requirements.

While all settlements, whether mountainous or not, face solid waste management challenges, mountain areas tend to face additional challenges which are by virtue of their location, characterized by remoteness, topography, scattered settlements, sensitive and fragile ecosystems, lack of infrastructure and road networks, and poor institutional and financial capacity. This makes service provision in mountain areas all the more demanding compared to the plains, suggests the study.

Mountain tourism in Pakistan is gaining importance and has the potential to be an important part of the economy in these regions, but a polluted landscape will hinder that opportunity. Furthermore, solid waste management in the mountains can provide job opportunities through collection, segregation, and decentralized approaches. However, if not done correctly, it may have long-lasting negative impacts on the environment, human health, and the local economy cautions the study.

The study represents the first attempt of the World Bank to examine solid waste management issues in these unique, ecologically fragile areas that face concurrent challenges of high poverty and increasing pressures from tourism development. With funding from the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund, the World Bank had initiated the study “Supporting the Development of Sustain­able Solid Waste Manage­ment Strategies for the Mountainous Regions of India, Nepal, and Pakistan” with the objectives to analyze the current situation reg­arding solid waste management in the mou­ntainous regions of India, Nepal, and Pakistan.