‘Zero Plastic Water Bottles for a healthy Gurudongmar Lake’, declares Sikkim’s Lachen village
WWF-India helps implement the ban on ground through an awareness programme
The High Altitude Wetlands of SikkimThe state of Sikkim, nestled in the Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot holds within it more than 220 glacial fed High Altitude Wetlands, which support a wide variety of flora and fauna, as well as local communities who depend on them for various needs. Over the years, some of these wetlands have become popular tourist destinations, and unregulated tourism is gradually becoming a threat to these lakes in the fragile high altitude ecosystems.
The ban on plastic bottled waterGurudongmar Lake is the biggest glacial wetland found in Sikkim, and also considered sacred by the local communities. It attracts more than 15,000 visitors from across India, which leads to accumulation of garbage around the lake, and pollution due to the offerings released by pilgrims into the lake. WWF-India has been working towards conserving this lake in partnership with the Lachen Dzumsa (local administrative body) and Lachen Tourism Development Committee (LTDC). The Lachen village is the gateway to the Gurudongmar Lake. It is in this village where pilgrims and tourists stay over for the night to get acclimatized to the high altitude before going up to the lake. After a series of awareness programmes with tourists, local communities, tour operators, and clean up drives with the help of local communities, the Dzumsa, of Lachen announced a complete ban on the sale and use of packaged and bottled water in and around Lachen on the World Wetlands Day 2012 in February, and has prohibited tourists from carrying them up to the lake. This ban has the consent of all stakeholders involved, including hoteliers, shopkeepers, and local communities. This is a significant milestone achieved in conserving the immediate environment of this lake.
WWF-India’s awareness programmeTo facilitate on ground implementation of the ban, WWF-India and LTDC organized an awareness programme on May 17, 2012 to sensitize tourists towards abiding by the ban. As a follow up, drinking water in Lachen and Thangu was tested in the water-testing laboratory of the Community and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU) under the State Institute of Rural Development, and certified as fit for human consumption. Since it is the tourists who are reported to use bottled water, to ensure supply of safe drinking water for tourists in Lachen 44 hotels and shops have been provided with water filters, which would serve as a replacement to bottled drinking water. At the awareness program, a representative of the Hotel Association, Mr. Tamding Lachenpa, assured the full support of all hoteliers towards the ban, and in managing garbage at Lachen. A representative of Lachen Dzumsa, Mr. Hutu Lachenpa announced that fines would be imposed on any shop or hotel selling packaged water in the village. Driving the message home even further, members of the LTDC continued efforts to sensitize drivers and tourists at the entry check-post in Lachen, and distributing stickers to all tourist vehicle drivers. They garnered the support of the Lachen police station in monitoring the ban by checking all tourist vehicles entering Lachen. To support the initiative of garbage management further, households in Lachen also agreed to segregate all plastic bottles instead of dumping them into the drains of the village, which would be sent for recycling at regular intervals.
The Dzumsa of Lachen, with assistance from the LTDC and WWF-India is working on developing a strategy for monitoring of the garbage that goes up to Gurudongmar lake, and ensuring that it is brought back to Lachen. A proposal for construction of a garbage segregation chamber at Lachen is also in the pipeline. WWF-India will continue to support and work with the local administration and communities to ensure that the pristine natural beauty of Gurudongmar Lake remains intact.