Yet another K2 Cleanup

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Munir Ahmed

World’s second highest peak K2 is increasingly becoming more crowded and the dump of used tents, ropes, drums and several other kinds of waste. This is fast happening after the Pakistan government specially the Gilgit-Baltistan government has blindfolded towards increasing engagement of Nepali Sherpas in the mountaineering expeditions to summit the highest peaks of Pakistan. The GB and federal governments need to open their eyes wide to see the garbage collected by the Pakistani climbers and high altitude potters yet again in a cleanup of K2 in August 2022.

The K2 base camp and mountaineering route right up to camp 4 had become a dump of filth. In a recent drive, organized by the Directorate of Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistani climbers and high altitude potters collected more than 1610 kg of garbage that was thrown there by the foreign mountaineers and their Nepali Sherpas. The Sorry state of affairs shall not continue.  

The month-long K2 cleanup campaign collected all sorts of items used during the expeditions, including oxygen cylinders, tins, old ropes, tents and others. The waste on the high altitude mountains pose threats to very sensitive mountain ecosystems. The Nepali Sherpas’ unfriendly practices to the mountain environment and mountain ecosystems have increased the degradation. Extremely commercialized patterns of mountaineering and excessive human interventions have posed severe threats to the K2 environment. The foreign expeditions’ facilitators are making big bucks at the cost of Pakistan’s mountain ecosystems and the livelihood of the locals. It needs to be checked at earliest.

The CKNP Directorate believes that the fees collected from each expedition for the cleanup of K2 is very low as compared to the amount of pollution they make on the mountain ecosystems, and its impact on the lives of the locals and the people living downstream. We all are on the mercy of the expeditions that bring a fair amount of revenue. But, the intangible costs are never counted that may be higher than what we earn. I strongly believe that the cost-benefit quotient shall include the intangible costs too. Mainly they are waste and pollution’s impact on the health of locals, natural resource degradation, and consistent additional impact to the climate change vulnerability.

Yasir Rizvi, the CKNP K2 Cleanup Campaign Manager, stated the campaign was officially started on July 19, 2022 with a formal briefing session at CKNP Headquarters Skardu and concluded on August 18, 2022. All the cost of the cleanup was covered from the fees collected from all the visitors of the CKNP (Central Karakoram National Park). We engaged all the local expert climbers for the campaign at relatively lower wages to thoroughly complete the task. They generously did the campaign with dedicated hard work and to the entire satisfaction of the managers despite inclement weather.

Rizvi says it should be noted that this year, the trek was overcrowded due to the hundreds of people heading together to the K2 peak, and the waste was correspondingly high. Unfortunately, most of the international, national and local climbers carried their waste up to their tents. They dropped waste in various upper camps of K2 peak, due to which there was a fear of severe negative impact on the ecosystem.

Most importantly, the provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan needs to urgently pay heed towards the increasing challenges to K2 as the total visitors to this area have increased to 3857 in 2022 from 668 in 2011. As the federal government has taken several tourism friendly measures, expected visitors to Gilgit-Baltistan will be increasing enormously, so the waste and pollution accordingly. Damage to the mountain ecosystems will be unprecedented. Do the necessary legislation to manage and control it right now, do strengthen your institutions and departments before it’s too late.    

The writer is a freelance journalist and broadcaster, and Director Devcom-Pakistan. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com and tweets @EmmayeSyed