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As Tourism Grows in Leh, so Does the Concern About Its Environmental Impact

The growing tourists and associated waste has other fallout issues.

Ujjwal Jagithta, researcher, responsible for tourism, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives in Ladakh (HIAL), told Mongabay-India that Leh was once famous for its sustainable way of living. Things have changed drastically here.

Managing waste has become a huge challenge as the current processing plant is unable to handle all the daily generation of waste. Earlier people in Ladakh hardly generated waste as all their waste was either recycled or used as farm manure, she said.

“Dry toilets have been replaced with water-based flush toilets because of demand from tourists, thereby increasing water consumption,” Jagithta, confirming what Leh-based NGO, the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG), had revealed in its study in 2019. LEDeG in partnership with international NGO, Bremen Overseas Research & Development Association (BORDA) had found that total water used in Leh for domestic purposes (excluding gardening and construction purpose) is 5 million litres per day (MLD) in summer whereas the actual demand is 7.4 MLD or even higher.

It also raised serious concerns over quality issue of the underground water. The report claimed that traditionally, snow-melted water through surface streams, locally called yuras, provided 90% of water used by people of Leh and remaining 10% came from natural springs.

“Today, however, 92% of the domestic water is from underground sources, of which 70% is from Leh’s aquifers. This water is being increasingly contaminated, yet there is no effort or plan to monitor ground water quality or any intense effort to prevent its pollution,” the report added.

The director of LEDeG, Eshey Tondup told Mongabay-India that water is going to be major challenge for Leh in couple of years for number of reasons including increase in tourist footfall and less snowfall.

As experiments like artificial glaciers are being implemented in Leh to meet the water needs, Tondup said water conservation methods needed to be followed more aggressively to overcome the imminent challenges.

LEDeG, he said, is already creating awareness among homestays and guest house owners to reduce the water consumption by asking tourists to use dry toilets than water-based flush system.

But as Jensen of Local Futures puts it, unless there are serious policy shifts to regulate everything from construction expansion, plastic packaged products, flights per day, total number of tourists, etc., the individual efforts to be mindful and responsible will remain far from adequate for the task of securing a sustainable and liveable future in Leh.

Jagithta of HIAL said that often tourists indulge in jeep safaris and off-roading land up disturbing the habitat and stressing wildlife. “We need a wider debate in the society on responsible tourism to maintain a balance between economic and ecological needs,” he added.

(This article was originally published at Mongabay. It has been re-published here with permission.)

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