Eco-success in Nepal’s Annapurna:
The ACAP Helps Sustain Nepal
By Kennerly Clay
The reward for the two-day trek to Satkar Guest House in the village of Ghandruk is a hot solar shower, a cozy room with electric lighting and a hot cup of Mimkumar Gurung’s delicious milk tea made with cinnamon.
Travelers en route to higher elevations in central Nepal’s Annapurna region usually stop for a night in Ghandruk to enjoy a view of Macchapuchre (pronounced “Ma-sa-poos-ray,” also known as “Fishtail”) and to pay a visit to the Gurung Museum which displays artifacts, tools and costumes of the ethnic gurung who inhabit the area. Ghandruk is also home to The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), and many trekkers stop into the office to see a video of the ACAP’s efforts in the area.
Since Nepal opened its doors to foreign visitors in 1950, Himalaya fever has attracted many adventurers, whose arrival has contributed greatly to land erosion and threats to biodiversity.
Mountains have been scarred by deforestation as residents scramble to supply their visitors with firewood for cooking, heating and bathing.
Trekkers have left behind garbage, including thousands of plastic water bottles that end up in unsightly mounds along the trails or in the villages. Ghandruk, as a major stopover point on the Annapurna circuit, was notably suffering the consequences of tourism.
In 1986, under the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, the ACAP was established to address issues of preservation, sustainability and tourism management in the Annapurna area.
Ghandruk became a focal point and plans for recovery were implemented based on several ACAP principles: 1) people’s participation and consensual decision-making; 2) “matchmaking” between aid agencies and community needs; and 3) sustainability: projects which would be successfully maintained by the local community after initial implementation.
As the pilot program of the ACAP, Ghandruk boasts the most progressive projects for sustainability, reforestation and proper tourist management in all of Nepal. Ghandruk’s teahouses utilize solar heat and hot water, and use kerosene and gas rather than firewood. While guest lodges are equipped with electricity, the lodge owners cover 75% of the electricity costs for the village. Electrification is therefore subsidized by the lodges that benefit most from the utility.
Ghandruk’s steep trails are paved, and while most Nepali villages suffer polluted water, the water in Ghandruk is drinkable. Local women’s groups are strict managers of household waste and are also involved in health and family planning education, adult literacy classes, and establishment of day care centers. Other women’s projects help women utilize traditional skills, such as weaving, to generate income.
The success of the ACAP in Ghandruk has spilled over into neighboring villages that now benefit from alternative energy programs using micro-hydro power plants and back-boilers to reduce fuel and wood consumption.
Drinking water supply improvements, bridge repair and construction, and school support networks are other community development achievements of the ACAP throughout the Annapurna region. But even in nearby Landruk, a village much poorer than Ghandruk which sees fewer trekkers and receives fewer donations from visitors, improvements are coming.
Teachers at the Shree Landruk Primary School work with teachers from other village schools to make sure poorer villages and schools are getting equal funding. If schools are severely lacking, they share their resources.
Purnabadu Gurung, owner of Satkar Guest House, is an active member of the health center, electricity and lodge committees, which meet once a month to discuss issues affecting the entire Ghandruk community.
Sustainable tourism management is an ongoing concern, but the concept of conservation has now become well-ingrained in the people of the Annapurna region. Eco-responsibility is taught in local schools and schoolchildren are involved in their own reforestation programs.
After dark at the Satkar Guest House, Purnabadu turns on the blinking Christmas lights that dance around the windows, while his son puts on a reggae dance CD. There’s a huge TV and video player encased in a large, locked steel case with glass windows–all transported by foot from Pokhara.
So many luxury items seem incongruous with the wilderness of the Himalayas and the lack of basic necessities so many Nepali people suffer. While trekking romantics may cringe at the sight of so much modernization, that’s the price of tourism. More importantly, Purnabadu and his family have worked hard to earn these luxuries–but not at the expense of the environment or their neighbors.
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