How can the Mountain Ecosystem be restored from the Negative Impact of Development Initiatives and Tourism?

Updated December 6, 2020

Mountain ecosystem contains a diverse array of habitats in which a large number of plants, animals and other living creature can be found in the mountainous regions. Mountains are the most important as well as a sensitive part of the environmental ecosystem. It should be noted that a large proportion of people depend on the water that originates in the mountains. Glaciers in the mountains are the main source of water for many rivers. It is the storehouse of water. Provision of water, culture regulation and cultural significance are among the primary service derived from mountain systems. Due to rapid development in the mountainous regions, the ecosystem is undergoing existential threats.

Mountain ecosystem is very important for India, it is endowed across the country. The Himalayan and adjacent mountain ranges in the north-east region within Indian territory is collectively known as the Indian Himalayan region, represent a highly fragile and vulnerable mountain ecosystem. The Himalayas is extended over 2500 km, cover north border of India. It is dived into western, Central and Eastern Himalayas. The Western Himalayas are located in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. Uttarakhand house the central Himalayas. The Eastern Himalayas cover northern parts of the West Bengal and extend into Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. Himadri, Himachal and Shivaliks are the three parallel mountains ranges of Himalayas. Poorvanchal mountains are located on the north-eastern side of India.

Due to the rapid development and increase of tourism in recent years, the mountain ecosystem is deteriorating. If the mountain ecosystem is being hampered continuously by development and tourism, then it could have a large impact on the people living far from the mountains or near the mountains. So, it should be given a high priority for conservation and sustainable development.

Major Threats to Mountainous ecosystems

Increasing Pressure from Mass Tourism-

Mountains nature and culture has always captured the interest of the people. This has invited thousands of visitors to visit the mountainous region each week. So, travelling mountainous region has become an increasing trend to spend a weekend holiday. The agricultural field has changed into resorts and restaurant, explosion in the numbers of the car has increased the air pollution, the demand of water has been increased and at the end of the holiday, tons of piles and Garbage are left out. These all have led to the degradation of the mountainous ecosystem.

Climate Change:

Mountains are the source of almost 60-80 per cent of the world’s freshwater, repositories of nearly half of the world’s biodiversity ‘hot spots’, areas of cultural diversity etc. Deforestation and ill-considered infrastructure development have led to the deterioration and degradation of the mountainous ecosystem. The mountain ecosystem shows a great deal of variation in the climatic pattern. Some of the apparent changes in the Indian Himalayan region due to climate change include deglaciation, glacial lake outburst floods, disturbance in crop and livestock productivity etc.

It is a well-accepted fact that climate change is the main factor contributing to the accelerated glacier shrinking, effects on forests and biodiversity observed in the mountainous regions. Climate change is likely to enhance the frequency and intensity of forests fires in the mountain. It exacerbates the problem of carbon emission, haze and habitat destruction.

Illegal hunting and Encroachment:

Mountains are the repositories of nearly half of the world’s biodiversity ‘hot spots’. Most songbird, Pangolin, Muntjac deer, wild boars, Leopard etc. are existing in the mountainous region. But the illegal hunting and encroachment have led to the loss of their habitats. Illegal hunting is contributing to the fast population decrease of mountain wildlife. Notwithstanding increasing population pressure and intensified greed of human beings push them to usurp the forests, mountain regions, and even ecological sensitive areas.

Infrastructure Development:

The competition to develop the economy, increasing urbanization, attaining energy security, connecting remote areas intrudes massively in the natural ecosystem of the Himalayan region.

Increasing garbage volume:

The garbage is scattered on the mountain, attraction site and human settlement. They are not properly handled, either get buried and burnt or left it out in the environment of the mountain. It means the garbage from the human populations, their habitat, and discharge from the industries are piled up in unimaginable non-biodegradable wastes and toxins in the mountainous regions and gradually, it started deteriorating the mountain ecosystem.

Measures to restore mountain ecosystem from the negative impact of development and tourism

Declaring Ecologically Sensitive Areas: The entire mountainous regions should be designated as Ecological Sensitive Area so as to save it from the damage of development activities.  Within this area, they should be identified as Ecological Sensitive Zones (ESZ) I, II, III based on their existing nature and threat. In this area mining, quarrying, thermal projects, urbanization should be banned.

Suitable Industries: Within this area, Industries that cause the least damage to the natural environment can be promoted here. For example, Hydropower project should be promoted, the service sector instead of the manufacturing sector. The Northeast BPO promotion scheme seeks to achieve the said objective.

Restricting tourist footfall: The mountain ecosystem has a certain carrying level capacity and an increased number of people will cause strain on its resources. To keep the number of people at acceptable levels there is a need to control movement into these areas. This can be done by restricting tourists.

Ecotourism: In order to restore the mountain ecosystem, making of resorts and restaurant should be restricted at first. The government should promote eco-friendly tourism so as to maintain the hampering of the natural environment or resources. So, making the tourism sustainable government should adopt the model of ecotourism where pressure on natural resources would be least. e.g. Odisha’s Mangalajodi model.

Awareness Campaigns: Mountainous ecosystem can be controlled by educating the locals about the impact of damage caused by activities such as rampant tourism, irresponsible constructions, and pollution. Through these campaigns, locals will come in front and can be actively involved in conservation activities. Ex: Social groups will take out marches to create awareness about the waste disposal system.

Sustainable development: The major solution to the problem of negative impact is through sustainable development. The infrastructure, as well as tourism, needs an approach in which the activities do not result in exploitation. Ex: Reduce the use of items such as plastics and petroleum fuels. This can reduce pollution up to a certain extent.

The mountainous ecosystem is the most sensitive and fragile part of the environment. Being ecologically fragile, the region is required special kinds of safeguards in order to preserve their sensitive character at a time of want of rapid development. Thus, the various stringent steps would have to take in order to reverse the exploitation. This will not only help in restoring but also will prevent future exploitation. This treasure of natural beauty and resources can be stored for our future generations as well.

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