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Tourism and Its Consequences in Annapurna

    A broad arc of snowy crests shapes the beautiful Annapurna Range. Over the brief trekking season, the Annapurna Himal gets more than 25,000 tourists, many of whom "travel and activities have gone unmonitored and unrestrained" (Bunting and Wright 1984). The number of visitors to the Annapurna region is roughly five times that of the second most popular location, Sagarmatha National Park, better known as Mt. Everest. Concerns are mounting that the increasing number of international visitors would jeopardize the area's ability to preserve its environmental and cultural treasures.

    Galen Rowell described the situation in a recent National Geographic (September 1989, p. 391) article on Nepal and the Annapurna range as "the rising contamination of a valuable heritage": "The lonely magnificence is breathtaking – until I look down at my feet. There is a little rubbish dump frozen into the ice cap of Tharpu Chuli: abandoned candy wrappers, film cartons, plastic bags, wads of tissue, and half-empty food cans, all left by foreign climbing parties. To ancient Himalayans, it's a familiar and unpleasant sight."

    Twenty years ago, it would have been difficult to find a single tourist lodge in the Annapurna Sanctuary; presently, there are more than 20 lodges in the sanctuary and more than 200 throughout the circuit outside the sanctuary. The annual growth in tourism over the last ten years has resulted in the removal of vast tracts of rhododendron and wooded regions to suit the demands of lodges and trekkers for fuelwood for cooking, hot showers, campfires, and building materials. "A normal two-month climbing trip in Sagarmatha, for example, requires four loads of wood each day for a total of 8,000 kilograms of fuel. A sherpa fireplace, on the other hand, consumes 5,000 kg of wood each year " (Bunting and Wright 1984).

    According to a 1986 research on tourism in the Annapurna region, "the money from tourism is deceiving" (Sherpa 1987): just 20 cents of every three dollars spent by the typical trekker remains in the hamlet. Secondary environmental and social consequences of the area's expanding recreational use have brought additional significant concerns, including as disturbances to the local economy. As villages rely less on their own self-sufficiency and more on tourist revenue and outside resources to satisfy their daily needs, conflicts have developed.

    Tourism's psychological impact on local cultures has created an environment in which "feelings of cultural pride and self-respect are giving way to a sense of insecurity and inferiority" (Sherpa et al. 1979), particularly among young unemployed people who must rely on begging. Tourists have had an impact on dress trends, gastronomic preferences, family structures, religion, community language, and daily living routines.


    The Nepal Plan and Nepalese Leadership

    In response to the escalating issue, the Nepal Plan was presented in 1985 as a plan to combine community development with resource preservation. The aim, based on the Wildlands and Human Needs Program's experience, was to enable various uses and encourage benefit allocation or sharing with local populations. A new type of managed land would be established, enabling "village authority over resources in protected areas and the retention and distribution of income within the local region." The Annapurna National Park will "meet international park standards," with the "government sanctioning trust management and ensuring security.""The Nepal Plan's idea is to have the Annapurna National Park illustrate how a publicly formed but privately managed park can act as a catalyst for socioeconomic growth and improved environmental consciousness in surrounding communities and the nation as a whole."

    In 1985, the King of Nepal, Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, gave directions to the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, which performed a six-month field study backed by the WWF. Unlike Nepal's previous six national parks, which were established with a management plan that limited local population usage, the feasibility study emphasized the significance of beginning with a "operational strategy that would grow over several years incorporating the people and community leaders."The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) would be conducted in two phases, with each phase building on the previous one's achievements and lessons learned. This "new idea" emphasized the overarching objective of "conservation alongside harmonious tourism growth, governed by as small a governmental entity as feasible, dependent on local involvement, self-sustaining through admission and use fees."The pilot phase began three years ago in Ghandruk village, Kaski District. Based on the positive findings, the initiative will extend into 13 new panchayats encompassing 800 km2 on the southern slopes of Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Machapuchhare. When the second phase of the project is finished, the ACAP will encompass 2,600 km2 and 40,000 people. The project area has been divided into four zones, including one for intense usage (agricultural and human activities) and one for special management (those threatened by human impact or with significant trekking-tourism or other commercial development potential). As a result, the ACAP will become the government's largest management area.

    According to a recent assessment, "the survival of the earth's biological variety is intrinsically tied to enhancing the quality and security of life of rural people so that they are not compelled to drain their resources in order to live" (WWF 1989). I recall well the autumn day in 1987 when I met Mingma Norbu Sherpa. He introduced us all to an innovative idea in conservation and rural development as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Michigan: the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. Many discussions took place throughout his visit on the important role that environmental education had in the project. Our conversations eventually shifted to the implications of developing a national plan for environmental education based on the ACAP's results.

    It is now 1989, three years after the ACAP was implemented. During the first week of August, Nepal's Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act was amended to allow the establishment of conservation zones similar to the model Annapurna project. The user fees have been hiked from $3 to $8, with all proceeds going straight to the ACAP. The supply of kerosene, which was used as an alternate fuel source in the area, was temporarily interrupted due to the recent trade ban with India. The Forest Act was revised in the spring of 1989 to allow for private long-term tree planting. Local citizens can now lease property from the monarch for periods ranging from 80 to 95 years, with the district forest officer serving simply as an advisor.Regulations are now being written to return revenue to the community. The ACAP will enter Phase I in January 1990, which will comprise the 800 km of the Annapurna Sanctuary region.

    A series of community meetings yielded a list of priority programs, some of which were ecologically connected (water quality, sanitation, health care). The ACAP has launched a number of "community development projects that mobilize available local resources and augment them with critical economic and technical support" (Sherpa et al. 1989). If the technique is successful, it will have an impact on "grassroots economic growth and local engagement in the conservation and management of natural resources throughout Nepal's Middle Hills" (Sherpa et al. 1989).The following is a summary of the successes that have emerged from the pilot phase review. * To increase the local people's abilities to manage, a Hotel and Lodge Management Committee was formed. The group establishes standardized criteria for services and food and lodging rates. Hotel management training is available. Owners may apply for loans of up to $250 to fix lodes and construct latrines and garbage pits. The original Forest Management Committee has been reestablished.The Gandruk Forest Protection Committee (Ban Byabasthapan Samiti) has allocated the existing woods for protection and firewood harvesting. Forest nurseries distribute seedlings to individuals, and planting initiatives are in effect on both public and private land. Community development activities are being implemented to address issues such as health and sanitation, drinking water, and the creation and maintenance of paths and suspension bridges.Hotel and lodge owners employ alternative energy and relevant technologies. A kerosene depot has been established, and the lodges now have back boiler water heaters. Other energy sources, such as minor hydropower projects, are being investigated.

    What is significant about the ACAP?

    ACAP is the role that environmental education has played in educating people about the interrelationships between economic development, culture, and environmental conservation since its inception. This process-oriented approach to conservation has developed a structure through which anyone - whether policymakers, experts, tourists, or local residents - may learn about environmental concerns, their responsibility to the problem, and how to fix it. It is too early to assess the project's merits in achieving a sustainable balance between tourism and the Annapurna region, but time and experience will tell a fascinating narrative in the 1990s.