Privatizing the world’s tallest peaks
A climber hikes in Nepal’s Annapurna Sanctuary (Andrew Miller/Flickr)

While the rise in commercial mountaineering has been generating valuable income for Nepal, it has also resulted in pollution and local disturbance. Now the Nepalese tourism ministry is planning to lease exclusive access to many of its highest mountains to private tourism companies.

The government claims that the privatization of the mountains is necessary so that they can maximize their tourism revenue and the local people can benefit through tourism revenue and new jobs.

Of the nation’s 3,310 mountains, only 310 are currently open to commercial climbing. Around 1,600 peaks in Nepal have never been summited.

Tourism has already been piling trash on the mountains. The problem has escalated so badly that the government has initiated a new regulation for climbers. If climbers return 18 lbs. (6.2 kg) of waste, in addition to their own gear, they get back their $4,000 garbage deposit. Failure to comply with garbage regulations result in loss of future climbing privileges.

Sunrise over Mount Machhapuchchhre, Nepal (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)
Sunrise over Mount Machhapuchchhre, Nepal (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)

Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation generated $3.16 million from Mt. Everest royalties in 2013. Foreign tourists have to pay $500 for 10 days in Upper Mustang, which is managed as part of the Annapurna Conservation Area.

The Nepal’s push for tourism growth has been neglecting regional development at the expense of national development. Despite years of protest, locals receive less than 40 percent of the tourist entry revenues.

Both people who benefit and do not benefit are affected by tourism growth. Locals living near the glaciers express their appreciation of tourists’ expenditures; however, they are conflicted by how the tourist use sacred local areas and disturb the mountain spirits with littering. Most of these areas do not have a waste management system so they face an especially high concentration of toxic substances when tourists discard their plastic wrappers and batteries. Many of these villages burn the waste, which releases toxic polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) in the air, exacerbating de-glaciation, which in turn affects local access to water.

There are many questions about how the privatization of glaciers will affect nearby communities, especially since the state-run tourism sector in the Nepal Himalayas has been overridden with corruption. Will privatization of tourism be more sustainable than the earlier state-run tourism? Because privatization creates access to the remotest glacier communities in Nepal, how it will change those areas remains to be seen.



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