By Mohammad Niaz
By virtue of their socio-economic benefits, wilderness, aesthetic, biological and historical values ,wetlands contribute to the promotion of tourism all over the world. Since 1971, the Convention on Wetlands has intensified focus on their conservation and management on sustainable basis for obtaining continuous benefits in the long run.
In Pakistan 19 wetlands have been designated as Ramsar Sites, however, there are others that need to be notified as wetlands of international importance. Sustainable wetlands tourism is essential to ensure socio-economic development without impairing the biological and ecological characteristics of wetlands.
In some developing countries, tourism contributes up to over 80 per cent to the economic development. According to reports about 35 per cent of Ramsar Sites in the world provide tourism opportunities and activities to the host countries.
Bird watching, hiking, sightseeing, swimming, sketching, etc, are some of the activities that wetlands can offer to tourists for recreation besides promoting education, learning and research. Therefore, local communities need to be trained as guides to facilitate the visitors which will also support their livelihoods on sustainable basis.
“These wetlands are the lifeline of our rural economy”, says Fayaz, who lives near Lake Saif-ul-Muluk, Naran. “In summer this site is a hotspot for many tourists belonging to different walks of life. Many of our local community people earn their living through hotels, restaurants, gift shops, camp accommodation and recreational means, etc., not only around these areas but also in nearby towns or bazaars which help our economy flourish by creating job opportunities at our doorstep, otherwise we would be forced to go work in big cities away from home.”
In Pakistan, wetlands range from the high alpine lakes down to those in the alluvial plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, along River Indus and small storage dams, besides the coastal wetlands. Other than the wetlands that have been designated as Ramsar Sites in Pakistan, some water bodies also have the potential to attract tourists. The Kachura, Satpara, Rama, Shoesar lakes in Gilgit-Baltistan are some of the most famous and familiar places that serve as hot spots of tourism in summer.
There is an exhaustive list of water bodies having the potential of being termed as resorts, including Ansoo Lake in Kaghan Valley at 13,927 feet, Kundol Lake in Swat Valley, Shandur Lake in Chitral district, experiencing high biotic pressure, the legendary Saif-ul-Maluk in Kaghan Valley, Lulusar-Dhodipat lakes in upper Naran, Hanna Lake near Quetta constructed during the British times, Quramber Lake being the 31st highest lake in the world at14,000 feet, Khabiki Lake in the Salt Range, Manchhar, Keenjhar and Haleji lakes in Sindh, Banjosa Lake in Azad Kashmir, etc.
Broghil Valley in Chitral district too is a hub of wetlands and many tourists enjoy pony trekking across the tough terrain in the valley. These not only promote eco-tourism but also contribute to socio-economic uplift in many ways. According to reports there are more than 225 lakes in the northern areas of the country that have high ecological and ecotourism potential but not many tourists visit these due to their location in the far flung areas and their inaccessibility.
Guided tours could contribute to sustainable development in such far-off places. Wetlands which are frequently visited by tourists are easily accessible to urban areas. Hence unregulated tourism there can also have an adverse impact on wetlands such as habitat loss, pollution, noise or over-consumption of water at the cost of development.
Ahmad, a regular visitor to the Shandur Lake says, “Tourist education is extremely essential to respect nature for continued flow of benefits. Each year the Shandur Polo Festival is held here due to which the lake experiences tremendous biotic pressure on its resources and the environment.”
Astola Island in Balochistan serves as an important staging and wintering ground to thousands of migratory waterfowl. Another attraction here are the architectural remains of an ancient temple of the Hindu goddess Kali Devi, as well as a prayer yard constructed for a Muslim saint associated with oceans.
The Indus Dolphin Reserve, which is home to the endangered Indus Dolphin near Sukkur, has also the historical Sadhu Bela Hindu shrine and a graveyard. The Indus Delta being the fifth largest delta in the world consists of creeks, estuaries, mud, sand, salt flats, mangrove habitat, marshes, sea bays, straits and rocky shores. It is rich in biological resources including mangrove forests, a large number of species of birds, fish and shrimps, and dolphin, humpback whale and reptiles.
Also in the south, is Miani Hor, a large shallow sea bay and estuarine system in Balochistan, which is biologically rich and archaeologically gifted. The Runn of Kutch supports many threatened species, including the Great Indian bustard, Houbara bustard and Sarus crane; the region also boasts rich archaeological remains such as three giant temples dating back to between 1375 and 1449.–Dawn