Crowd, unchecked, unplanned and unmanaged Expedition

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Dilli Raman Dhakal

Over the last several weeks, experts, mountaineers, the national and international media have been critical on the reported congestion in the Himalayas. As mentioned above, the tourism ministry and the department issuing climbing permits without delving into vital issues including safety, security, and the environmental. Climbers die every year during mountaineering season but this summer season’s number remained higher. People in the know together with international media are mainly blaming the higher number of permits issued for Sagarmatha.

This season the weather window remained very short compelling the climbers to rush. Nepal’s image has been tarnished with the negative news spreading through the powerful international media. However, the department of tourism officials has out rightly rejected the cause of deaths for congestion. Even the Prime Minister while talking to one of the international media insisted congestion was not the reason but high altitude sickness, weakness, and adverse weather conditions were to be blamed.

It seems that the PM was not properly briefed on this burning issue.  The Department of Tourism (DoT) has urged everyone not to be swayed by false information. But the people in the know are not convinced of the government position. Bigger blame has been given to mismanagement and a larger number of permits issuance. This summer, around 900 people, climbers, guides and support staffs, were on Sagarmatha itself. Now the time has come to review and accept the ground realities. In the meantime, there’s been a lot of press about scams involving expedition operators, guides, helicopter companies, hospitals, rescue companies and insurers accused of cheating hundreds of thousands of dollars with fake or duplicate rescue claims. Several insurance companies even considered dropping travel insurance for Nepal. The DoT assigns normally one liaison officer to each foreign climbing team.

It’s a well-known fact that they are chosen to reward them with a good perk by ministers and senior officers.  Human element remains very strong here in the selection. They hardly stay at the Base Camp nor any monitoring mechanism to follow up and get update from the liaison officers is in place. The DoT has confirmed through a recent press communiqué that those 37 liaison officers assigned this year, only 22 were reportedly reached to the Base Camp. It was not clearly mentioned whether the 22 officers stayed there throughout the period and reported to DoT.  The liaison officers, who go through a brief training knows little about mountaineering.

They don’t use communications equipment nor maintains contacts with the climbers and the DoT.  It shows how the gross negligence on the part of the DoT and the Ministry. Growing suspicion of expedition operators engaging in a “death business” (bringing back the dead bodies) has blackened the image of mountaineering in Nepal.  There is a dearth of experienced mountain guides since the younger generation of Sherpas seems not much interested to take up risky jobs. Also, the permits are issued to inexperienced climbers and permits given to unqualified operators. Another sad fact is that the DoT is currently manned with only 17 staff when the number should have been around eighty.

Nepal government has done nothing to protect, conserve, and promote the Himalayas and the region as a whole  rather looks satisfied by selling permits in a haphazard manner. Since the last 66 years, the Himalayas were abused rather than harnessing benefits without harming the pristine mountain environment. The garbage dumping has become a serious issue where the government resting throwing the job to an NGO. There are many more vital issues to be systematized in mountaineering. The nation must have longer-term planning for the Himalayas with an extended role to regulate and support mountaineering business. Strategic planning is an essential component of tourism development.  Tourism, here, in this case, a master plan for the rational use of the Himalayas is a must. Based on qualitative/quantitative tourism research and in combination with highly creative and innovative input, competitive strategies and measures for future marketing activities need to be devised. Measurements of economic impacts are essential to planning, and, making decisions but there are scores of other vital issues related to the environment to be considered.

Halt issuing permits, review, and plan

In view of the above context, the time has come to halt issuing expedition permits and conduct thorough research so as to formulate ways to gain more without doing any harm to the Himalayas. There are many other ways to benefit from the presence of the Himalayas rather than focusing on issuing permits for the expedition. Hope the government and stakeholders will realize the gravity of the situation and come to a consensus halting expedition for now. Sagarmatha has not been rested for the last 66 years.

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