Everest cannot be kept free from refuse unless the authorities concerned strictly implement the rules introduced in 2014
Mount Everest has today become the world’s highest rubbish dump. Hundreds of metric tonnes of garbage, namely used oxygen bottles, tents, ladders, cans, wrappers, piles of human faeces and bags loaded with poop, and an estimated 300 unclaimed bodies of climbers and high altitude porters are strewn across the higher camps. The refuse is scattered around the expedition sites between South Col (Camp IV) and Camp II of the world’s highest peak and Mt Lhotse, the fourth tallest mountain and part of the Everest massif. Everest, which is holy for the Sherpas, is stinking and has become an eye sore for those attempting to conquer it. Spring is the best climbing season, from April to May-end. According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), as many as 500 foreign climbers and more than 1,000 climbing support staff will be making their way to the summit of the 8,848-metre peak during this season. One can easily imagine the amount of trash the expeditions will leave behind on Everest and Lhotse.
The task of collecting the refuse and dead bodies buried deep under the ice, bringing them to base camp and ultimately to Kathmandu is indeed Herculean. The dead bodies of the climbers have remained buried there for decades, and their relatives might not want them back in their home countries for various reasons. If the refuse left behind by the climbers is not cleared from the high altitude areas of Everest and Lhotse, it will be very difficult for the alpinists to make their way to the summit in the future. Considering the urgency of removing the waste dumped at the higher camps, the Nepali stakeholders, including the Nepali Army, the concerned ministry, local levels and associations involved in trekking and mountaineering have now decided to join hands to clear the litter from both the mountains in the biggest ever clean-up drive.
In order to keep Everest clean, the government had introduced certain rules in 2014. Under the rules, it is mandatory to bring back at least eight kilos of garbage besides their own trash from Everest and other Eight Thousanders. But most of the climbers breach the rules due to laxity on the part of the law enforcing agencies stationed at the base camps. This time, the DoT has also decided to offer cash incentive to the refuse collectors as it has now roped in business houses for this noble cause. Two dedicated groups of Sherpa climbers, comprising at least five members each, will be collecting the garbage from there. Refuse collection from the high altitude areas should, however, not be a onetime event.
Local communities should also be involved in cleaning the mountains that provide them jobs round the year. In order to engage the local people in the campaign, the Inter-Government Fiscal Management Act, which has guaranteed 25 per cent of the royalty to the local levels, must be implemented religiously. Everest has lost its charm due to its commercialisation and mass climbing without a thought given to the environmental consequences. In a bid to keep the onslaught on the mountains to a reasonable level and maintain the spirit of adventure in climbing, it might be rational to raise the fees for an expedition to Everest.
Ounce of prevention
Participants of a discussion on public-private partnership in healthcare in Kathmandu on Sunday were right to emphasise on prevention measures rather than on the curative services for both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Medical treatment is getting all the time more and more expensive, and it would be sensible not to fall sick in the first place. Personal hygiene, clean drinking water, exercise and healthy eating would go a long way in staying healthy. With people’s changing lifestyle and growing urbanisation with its accompanying problems of pollution and stress, it is necessary to create awareness about diseases and ways to stay healthy.
In creating this awareness among the locals, especially in the rural areas, the female community health volunteers could play a pivotal role. In the past, they have been involved in implementing community-based maternal and child health programmes, polio campaigns and vitamin A distribution to under 5 children, and even in prescribing antibiotics to pneumonia patients. With financial and managerial support to them from both the public and private stakeholders, we could indeed build a healthier community.
A version of this article appears in print on April 09, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.