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Saving Ladakh

On a recent visit to beautiful state, our Editor saw urgent need to address environmental management issues

Madhurendra Sinha
Publish Date: Sep 21 2016 3:27PM | Updated Date: Sep 21 2016 3:27PM

Saving Ladakh

India’s jewel in the crown Ladakh is facing serious problem of ecological imbalance. With thousands and thousands of tourists flocking to Ladakh every year, a new problem is surfacing and that is of solid waste management. Apart from that there is a rampant wastage of precious water. 

Amir Khan’s blockbuster 3 idiots has not only popularized this beautiful area but is bringing tourists in large numbers. Tourists from all over the country are pouring in to have a glimpse of this unique Himalayan desert. The number of tourists is increasing every year and in the tourists season all the hotels are full. 
Although tourism is a major source of income to the local people but is creating problems in the form of water and fresh air pollution. Solid waste management has become a very big issue with local government unable to handle the pressure. There is absolutely no system of solid waste management, only they are being dumped out of the city of Leh creating serious problem of ecological imbalance. 
People must understand that Ladakh is a high altitude desert covering 40,000 sq. miles. This is a ecologically sensitive area with little water. Here rainfall averages less than 4 inches per year. 
Amidst shortage of water large number of tourists visit this area and complicate this problem by using and of course wasting precious water. Large number of hotels have come up to cater the needs of tourists who demand water for drinking and bathing purposes. Apart from this millions of liters of water is flushed down in the toilets wasting them completely. In a place like Ladakh where every drop of water is precious, this is a criminal wastage. Modern toilets require lot of water which ultimately is wasted simply because there is no water treatment plant. Entire water becomes polluted and useless. 
Influx of people from other areas to the city of Leh has brought with it congestion and lack of sanitation. Many areas of the city look dirty with trashes littered. Although polythene bags are banned here other kinds of garbage is thrown on the streets. This solid waste is creating problems and landfills are overflowing. State Government as well as Centre must take action fast. Solid waste management is crucial for this area. This is not only causing problems but also calling disaster. 
Rev. Lama Lobzang, Secretary General International Budhist Confederation says, in area like Ladakh where there is clean water and air, the number of people suffering from cancer is growing. Nobody knows the exact reason of this. Why cancer cases are increasing in this area? He himself answers, it could be because of water pollution. Now days pesticides are being used in large quantity which is creating havoc. 
The Lama is worried also about rapidly melting of snow in the deep mountains. Many glaciers have melted down and you can see mountains without snow during summer time. This is a sign of disaster. Melting glaciers will play havoc with lives of not only local residents but also of far off areas. As a result many rivers will dry up and there will be scarcity of water all over the country. 
Septic tanks are polluting ground water says Lama. He said there are large numbers of hotels in this area and they are making such toilets which waste water. In Ladakh people don’t take bath quite often because of climatic reasons but tourists demand plenty of water for bathing. This is wastage of a scarce natural gift. 
These environmental concerns were also echoed by many other Ladakhi citizens and religious leaders. Bhikhkhu Sanghasena founder of Mahabodhi international meditation centre is of the view that time has come to save Ladakh. This is a eco sensitive zone and its protection is a must. Similar sentiment was also shared by Chosing Dorjey a minister in the J&K cabinet. He said, you can see the effects of global warming in the entire Himalayan region. Our glaciers are receding and rivers are drying. This is a dangerous sign for our future. He informed that soon Ladakh will be 19th ODF (Open Defecation Free) district of the country which will further increase sanitation. 
A Ladakhi woman journalist was of the view that time has come to check flow of tourists in Ladakh, otherwise it will be another Shimla which is facing severe pollution. Unchecked growth of tourism can be dangerous warns this journalist.  
UNICEF sources say Leh faces several issues with regard to equitable access to water and sanitation services. In J&K 42.6% of households still practice open defecation and just 33.9% have improved sanitation facilities. It is lagging behind in swachh Bharat mission. It further says, only 9.47% people have access to tap water from a treated source in the Ladakh region and 81% of households have no drainage connectivity for wastewater outlet. The situation is grim and needs immediate solution. 
To save Ladakh a very effective movement Swachh Ladakh, Swachh Bharat has been started by Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) with active help of UNICEF. Under this programme a group of religious leaders were invited to Ladakh to create awareness about perils of ecological imbalance. Leaders of all faith took a common pledge to save Himalaya and Ladakh. They appealed to all the stakeholders to come forward and work for sanitation and fight pollution. 
Science and Technology minister Dr. Harshwardhan who was present in the event promised all kinds of help to the people of Ladakh in fighting pollution and saving water. He informed about his ministry’s work in making dry toilets which has proved to be a big success. 
A meeting was organized on the banks of Indus River whose real name is Sindhu and all invited religious leaders, govt. officials, ministers, local people etc. participated. This is a big step towards awakening people. This is the same Indus River where the great Indus Valley civilization was born and expanded to different parts of the country. 
Saving Ladakh should be given all sorts of priority by the govt. This eco sensitive zone is of prime importance to the country. Pollution control can be achieved with good strategy as well as designed programmes, adequate resources and good governance in implementation. Modern day technology to save water and clean it should be adopted immediately.