High altitude wetlands of Ladakh under severe threat

While the threat of global warming has alarmed the entire world community since past few years, back home in India it has been threatening the very existence of high altitude Himalayan wetlands in general and wetlands of Ladakh in particular. Ladakh has three main high altitude wetlands of Pangong Tso, Tso Morari and Tokhar which have been witnessing massive tourist activity thus threatening these wetlands.

“Major challenges to the high altitude wetlands of Ladakh include unplanned and unregulated tourism, tourist season coinciding with peak biological activity, infrastructure, tremendous grazing pressure, lack of awareness among the stakeholders, emerging threat of climate change and lack of coordination among various developmental agencies”, said Mr. Pankaj Chandan, India Coordinator, Himalayan High Altitude Wetlands Conservation programme while speaking at an extension lecture on the theme “Conservation and Management of Himalayan High Altitude Wetlands with a Focus on Black-necked Crane” organized by the Friends of Ladakh Society, University of Jammu , J&K in collaboration with The Vijay Suri Foundation at the Seminar Hall of DSRS, Social Sciences Block, University of Jammu here today.
Informing that the Himalayan high altitude wetlands of J&K not only support the unique biodiversity in the region but are also source of livelihood for the local communities, he said at the regional level these wetlands also act as source of major rivers originating from the regions and supports billions and Billions of people in the downstream regions. Forty per cent of the world’s population is dependent on water coming from Himalayas, he added.
Enumerating few challenges before the conservationists working in areas like Ladakh, he said high altitude areas are very tough and difficult to work, working season is very short, conservation outcome also depends on political situation. He said ownership of the conservation activities should be given to the local communities, conservation activities should be related to economic incentives and conservation should also help in improving the livelihood of poor and vulnerable communities
Mr. Chandan who has worked extensively on the Himalayan high altitude wetlands which are one of the most unique ecosystems in the world and he has been managing WWF-India's High Altitude Wetland Conservation project in the states of J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal, said high altitude wetlands were crucial for biodiversity and for sustainable economic growth not only locally but also at a river basin and regional levels. These, he said, regulate micro-climates immense livelihood, cultural and spiritual significance
Informing that the WWF Wetland projects started in Leh in year 2000 with a stakeholders meeting at Leh which followed by various activities planned at three wetlands of Ladakh Tsomoriri, Tsokar and Pangong Tso, Mr Chandan added that two more sites were added in 2004 which were Hanle Marshes and Chushul Marshes
This followed major WWF conservation actions and field presence at Leh, Tsomoriri and at Tsokar including Target Oriented Education and Awareness Activities, Publication of Resource material, Capacity Building Programmes for Stakeholders, Community Based Tourism Activities, Scientific Documentation of the High Altitude Wetlands and Institutional Mechanisms Evolved
What is most interesting initiative of WWF India for the conservation and management of Ladakh high altitude wetland is that it has started involving Indian troops at the wetland sites
“That is amazing but we have been doing it successfully now. We are involving troops in Avifaunal Surveys, keeping records at the specific locations, for regular garbage cleanliness campaigns, distributing posters and other resource material developed by WWF and other organizations,” he said.
“Training workshops for officers of armed forces are being organized. One training programme after every alternate year is being organized in Ladakh for Indian Army, ITBP, Indian Air Force Border Roads Organization and Jammu & Kashmir Police. The process of training the officers has been institutionalized. Many officers who were trained in these training programmes contributing in Conservation in other parts of India as well,” said Mr. Chandan.
Besides, there are regular training programmes for tour operators. One training programme is organized every year for the tour operators. Organizations like Bombay Natural History Society are also coming forward to help in these training programmes. Tour operators in Ladakh are regularly participating in various conservation activities. Annual cleanliness of the camping sites is organised every year by the tour operators. Besides Himalayan Car Rallies in wetland areas have been stopped with the help of local tour operators.
The presentation also gave an overview of Black-necked Crane which is a state bird of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and uses these high altitude wetlands as its breeding ground
Speaking at the occasion, Professor Anita Charak Billawaria, Secretary, Friends of Ladakh Society, University of Jammu, who is also heading Centre for History and Culture of Jammu and Ladakh regions, University of Jammu, said that the FoL has been working relentlessly for the past few years in the field of art and culture. She informed that "Friends of Ladakh" is a group of people who share common interests about Ladakh. Centre for History and Culture of Jammu and Ladakh Regions, University of Jammu is the nodal agency for this group while The Vijay Suri Foundation (TVSF) is a social organization working in the field of art, culture and languages. She informed that the Society would be organizing many activates in the near future including Ladakh food festival.
Professor Jasbir Singh, Department of Economics, University of Jammu who is the joint secretary, Friends of Ladakh, University of Jammu, while presenting a formal vote of thanks, said FoL was started with three objectives. One of these was creating awareness among people, students and communities regarding preservation of art and culture followed by participating and conservation. He said with this lecture which highly focused on adopting conservation strategies to protect our precious ecosystem of which we are an integral part of, Friends of Ladakh has achieved its third objective today.
Earlier, Dr Kavita Suri, member, Friends of Ladakh introduced the speaker to the audience.
The lecture was attended by a number of students, researcher and teaching community of the University including Dr Anupama Vohra, Prof V.D.Singh. Dr. Anju Thapa, Dr. Vishwa raksha, Dr. Niharika, Dr Hema Gandotra, Dr. Sharda Sharma, Prof Suman Jamwal, Dr Sham Narayan, Dr Munir Alam, S.K.Gupta, retd chief engineer, Lt. Col Biplav Nath, Mahesh Kaul, Lalit Gupta, Sandhya Dhar and many others.


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