Article by our guest writer Sami Godlove
Established in 1985, the Annapurna Conservation Area was the first conservation area created and managed by Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), and is Nepal’s largest protected area, covering an area of nearly 2,950 square miles. It is home to several different cultural groups including the Gurung, Manange, and Thakali, as well as incredibly rich biodiversity and unique landscapes like the Kali Gandaki Gorge–the deepest river gorge in the world, as well as the world’s largest rhododendron forest, and Tilicho Lake–the world’s highest altitude freshwater lake. This blend of culture and natural beauty makes the Annapurna Conservation Area and its various treks–including the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary–one of the most popular trekking destinations in the world, and the most visited in Nepal. Today, tens of thousands of tourists visit the area annually, most going on multi-day treks. There are over a thousand lodges and teashops where these trekkers stay and eat at during the treks, plus hundreds of other service-related amenities catered to tourists. The high traffic from tourism, coupled with increasing local populations, have placed immense pressure on natural resources and the local environment.
Most notably, local environmental issues include deforestation for cooking fuel and pollution from discarded plastic waste and trash. To remedy these problems, the NTNC launched the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) to manage tourism and conservation projects in the area. Some solutions the ACAP has developed include providing subsidies for alternative fuel and heating sources such as gas, kerosene, and solar, reducing the need for wood, and establishing several safe drinking water stations for trekkers along the popular trails. In the Annapurna Sanctuary, viewed as a sacred land by local beliefs, wood fires and plastic water bottles are banned in an effort to reduce deforestation and pollution. For water, trekkers must bring their own reusable bottles and can fill up at any of the lodges along the trek. Along the Annapurna Circuit, there are numerous safe drinking water stations, consisting of a large tank of filtered water, located in the larger villages that provide trekkers with drinking water for around 50 rupees a liter. These stations are run by local women’s groups, providing women, who are often uneducated and reduced to household work, with jobs. Thus, this scheme benefits everyone involved as plastic waste is reduced, local women are provided with jobs and income, and trekkers save money by refilling on water.
Where increased tourism has threatened to damage the Annapurna region, ACAP is using it to benefit both the environment and local communities. All these initiatives are funded by the tourist fees and permits required to enter the Conservation Area. ACAP has also attempted to make local communities a major part of the solution by providing environmental and hospitality education, as well as fostering local economic development to ensure the communities are the ones to benefit from tourism revenue. Thus, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project has focused on using the positives of tourism–revenue, funding and education–to limit the potential negatives of tourism–environmental harm and economic divide.
In a world that expects to see increased numbers of global tourism, and continued issues with sustainability and conservation, similar destinations can look to the ACAP as a model for sustainable development and tourism.