En route to Kalam valley, standing atop a restaurant balcony and gazing down at the throttling River Swat, I was once again disheartened to see heaps of garbage thrown on the slope of the mountain by the restaurant management.
As usual, shopping bags, pet bottles, plastic wrappers, box cartons and all sorts of litter were disposed of at the otherwise ravishingly green face of the hill. Expectedly, the same trend continued all over the mountains and streets of Bahrain, Kalam and other places. I wondered whether these valleys shared the same future as that of the Murree hills. We must take a different approach this time to keep these places safe from becoming landfills of trash.
I have recently been to Swat, and the push for tourism by the KP government seems to be in action. The freshly inaugurated Swat Expressway and the newly carpeted road up to Bahrain are promising Swat valley a renewed wave of tourism, bigger than ever before. Swat can become more lucrative than Galiaat, Naran valley or Neelam valley due to better road infrastructure and lesser time required to reach higher peaks. I have found people of Swat more hospitable while lodging and dining were more economical than other popular tourist spots. However, tourism development is not just about connecting roads. It is a hospitality industry and we should develop it in various dimensions if we really want to create international tourist destinations.
Cleanliness is, of course, one of the most important parameters. Despite the numerous cleanliness drives done in Murree or Lake Saif ul Malook, for example, we have been unable to get rid of this menace permanently. Tourists are blamed for littering and yes, they are blamed rightly. We are a dirty nation, which, despite having cleanliness as half part of our Iman (faith), does not have the moral sense to keep our surroundings clean.
However, the tourists alone cannot be crucified for this because the locals, themselves, are a part of the same nation. As they say that charity begins at home, unless the hosts themselves inspire, impress and motivate the guests to maintain orderliness, a perpetual solution cannot be found.
Local people are the greatest stakeholders in the promotion of tourism
The government should launch an awareness campaign among the locals. The locals acknowledge the fact that tourism is their livelihood, but their vision should be broadened to their responsibilities, too. After assuring the local municipality has an effective garbage collection and disposal system in place, the ministry of tourism can make people-to-people contact, arrange training sessions and workshops in the community halls or marketplaces, and distribute literature. The local people must realise it is their–and only their–prime responsibility to keep these places clean from which they earn their bread and butter. Furthermore, special awareness-raising courses should be introduced in the local schools and colleges so that the future generations to host these places get a sense of cleanliness built-in.
Along with this awareness campaign, the municipalities must fix dustbins for public use everywhere within approachable walking distances. There is a severe dearth of dustbins in these areas. How long could one carry a disposable in the pocket? Every shop, restaurant and vendor must be compelled to take care of the dustbins installed in their vicinities and not only use those themselves but ask the tourists too, though politely, if they see someone misbehaving. The practice of cleaning your own place and throwing the garbage in the street or backside must be abolished. The vendors must also be compelled to provide a dustbin on their own if the municipality dustbin is unavailable. The next phase should be to start the imposition of fines on the local vendors if the litter is found in their vicinity. It will make them responsible for keeping their places tidy, and they will compel the tourists to do the same.
In addition, the use of plastic shopping bags must be banned immediately. The KP government has already done so, but I did not find this ban being implemented anywhere during my tour. Pet bottles should also be replaced by green alternatives though it will need massive cooperation from the industrial side.
Local people are the greatest stakeholders in the promotion of tourism. Hence, they have the greatest responsibility, which they must realise. Unfortunately, this realisation and in turn protection of tourism must be made through external efforts, step-wise, through improving the garbage disposal system, awareness drives, legislation, law enforcement and penalties. Natives of not only Swat but any tourist destination in Pakistan could become the key holders to maintain these places in a neat and tidy manner. All respective governments must urgently focus on making the local people aware of and responsible for their duties. Otherwise, the dreams of a clean and garbage-free northern Pakistan would remain elusive forever.
The writer is an engineer serving in a public-sector organisation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @saaz_zaidi