Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, on Thursday said that unsustainable and exploitative tourism practices in various parts of the country, particularly in biodiversity-rich and environmentally-sensitive areas, over last several years have badly harmed local fragile ecosystems that house wildlife species and their habitats of global importance.
However, given the reaslisation the incumbent government is taking all-out measures to usher in sustainable models of ecotourism in consultative with local partners and communities as a part of Prime Minuster's vision for Clean and Green Pakistan, so as to cater for tourists in the natural environments like Ayubia National Park without damaging it or disturbing the wildlife and their habitats, he said.
Malik Amin Aslam expressed these views on Thursday while addressing as a chief guest at an inaugural ceremony of reopening of the 129 years old historical ‘Moto Tunnel’, an historical and archeological tourist attraction in the picturesque and biodiversity-rich Ayubia National Park, some 76 kms from the capital city.
Declared as a protected area spanning over 3,312 hectares (33 km2) in Abbottabad district, the biodiversity-rich National Park harbours 33 species of mammals, 104 species of plants, 256 species of birds and 19 species of reptiles and several archaeological sites of global significance.
“But most of them are at risk of vanishing because of damage caused due to unsustainable tourism practices and mining of natural resources from the Park area, particularly tree-felling and contamination of natural water channels,” the prime minister’s aide noted.
Shedding light on the historical background of the Tunnel, Malik Amin Aslam told participants that built in 1891 between Ghora Dhaka (presently Ayubia) to Khaira Gali (Muree) beneath the road and residential area in Ayubia Town, the 250-feet long tunnel had remained in a worse shape for want of maintenance over last several decades.
But considering the importance of the location of the Moto Tunnel and its archaeological significance, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Wildlife Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa jointly renovated and restored the tunnel to its original glory as a cultural icon under the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Fund-supported Sustainable Forest Management project, conservationist Muhammad Suleyman Khan, Inspector General Forest at the climate change ministry, informed the event participants.
He highlighted, “Besides, reopening and renovation of the different segments of the tunnel, the tunnel site has been provided with various facilities for tourists including paved track to the tunnel, information center, guiding facilities, sitting and resting areas and coffee shop.”
Mr. Warraich also recalled that how only after lots of collaborative efforts for planning and funding-raising spread over months the climate change ministry and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa forest and wildlife department were able to pool together resources and capacities for restoration of the fast vanishing archaeological site, which had been long known as a historical and cultural icon among globally known archeologists, historians and nature tourists.
Explaining the tunnel renovation work, the climate change ministry official Muhammad Sulyeman Khan Warraich said the tunnel was restored after reinforcement work that involved stone-dressing for stabilising of the outer and internal slopes and curves of the tunnel. Besides, construction of the drainage and flooring of the tunnel was also carried out for convenience of tourists.
The delicate lightning work carried out inside the tunnel boosts its beauty and the fine stone-pitching work on both entrances, which has helped restore the original beauty and glory of the tunnel, he added.
Earlier, the PM’s aide Malik Amin Aslam hoped that the glorious cultural icon would add value to the natural beauty of the National Park and provided added attraction for the tourists.
He told the participants that environmental concerns have taken the centre stage in economic debates in recent years.
For instance, until recent years the economic debates have focused on productive and exhaustible resources, which has also led to, among others, unsustainable tourism as a key driver for economic growth. But now the current debates touch on tourism that promotes sustainable tourism practise that do not lead to exploitation of natural resources rather their protection and preservation, he explained.
There is pressing need to understand that environmental sustainability is vital for quality of life and sustainable economic activities. However, no society can offer quality life and provide productive economic activities, which lack sustainable environment.
“Protecting and preserving natural resources like lakes, mountains, beaches and rivers, which are the main sources of tourism attraction and promoting ecotourism concepts and practices at all levels, which promote sane use of natural resources, is inevitable for overall environmental and economic sustainability.” Malik Amin Aslam stressed.
He cautioned that besides exerting pressure on the natural environment, unsustainable tourism practices also build up pressure on the cultural environment leading to ruin of cultural and archaeological assets and values of the communities living in the natural environment like the situation the Moto Tunnel faced.