‘Spotlessly clean’ peaks under garbage

The Annapurna Express

The Annapurna Express

‘Spotlessly clean’ peaks under garbage

In the absence of monitoring, provision of monetary fines has failed to deter mountaineers from littering the mountains they are climbing

Over the past 16 years, each one of the mountain expeditions in Nepal has suc­cessfully reclaimed the $4000 (in the case of Everest, and $3,000 in the case of other mountains over 8,000m) deposited with the Department of Tourism. This means our mountains are spotlessly clean, as a mountain expedition forfeits the deposit if it is found to have littered a mountain. But as there is little monitoring of the activ­ities of mountain expeditions, this legal pro­vision of monetary fines has failed to deter mountaineers from polluting the mountains they are climbing.


As a result, the piles of garbage on Nepali mountains have been mounting, even though there is no hard data on how much garbage is actually out there. “But there surely is a lot of it,” says Nga Tenji Sherpa, a regular mountain climber.


There is a provision whereby every climber has to bring back eight kilograms of garbage to the base camp. A government liaison officer sta­tioned at the base camp is supposed to ensure that the mountaineers are doing so. But most of the times these officers are not even present at the base camps.


“There is now no alternative to banning expe­ditions on polluted mountains like Everest and Manaslu for, say, five years and start cleaning them up,” says Maya Sherpa, the president of Everest Summiteers Association. “Otherwise the government could lose all the revenues it currently earns from mountaineering.”


This year, a lot of garbage has been depos­ited above Everest base camp 2, says Nga Tenji Sherpa. “When I was returning after cresting Everest earlier this month, I found tent clothes, used utensils, gas cylinders, and other plastic and rubber items left behind at various camps.”


There is still a tradition of expeditions bury­ing their wastes under the snow; and the wastes show up as soon as the snow starts melting. “The climbers are supposed to bring back eight kilo waste but it appears that they are doing the opposite: leaving behind eight kilo. No one is monitoring them. In this state, how can our mountains be clean?” he asks.


The Department of Tourism has been return­ing anti-dumping deposits on the basis of rec­ommendations of bodies like the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (in Khumbu) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (in Manalsu region). “But these organizations have zero knowledge about whether a partic­ular expedition has adhered to government’s anti-dumping rules,” says Santa Bir Lama, the president of Nepal Mountaineering Association. “Unless these organizations and the offending liaison officers are punished, there is no possi­bility of cleaning up our mountains.”


This climbing season alone, the government generated Rs 380 million in revenues from Everest. Likewise, it earned over Rs 450 million from other mountains. But little of this money is being spent in cleaning up the mountains.


Lack of awareness about the damages caused by the left-behind garbage among mountain­eers and government workers, unaccountable trekking agencies, and poor oversight are responsible for the garbage problem, according to Ram Prasad Sapkota, an information officer at the Department of Tourism.


Besides Everest and Manaslu, the other mountains with documented accu­mulation of garbage are Nangpai, Mustang, Dhaulagiri, Sarewung, Arniko Peak, Makalu, Lhotse and Nuptse.