Recent environmental pollution statistics announced by the WHO reveal that the world is fast becoming an inhabitable place. The more popular a place becomes, whether for settling, working, or travelling to, the more it gets polluted in the long run. This got me thinking on how we, as travellers, can save the world from degenerating beyond redemption.
Delhi, the most polluted city in the world?
|Young ragpickers at a severely polluted garbage dump site in New Delhi (Source)|
It was a highly unpleasant, if not entirely unexpected, surprise to see my city Delhi on top of the list of the world's most polluted cities. Everywhere I go, monument, garden or market, there are signs of extensive littering. The problem of pollution and waste disposal is deep-rooted; metropolitan cities like Delhi are just more visible manifestations. While local populations and municipalities are responsible for keeping their cities clean and green, the duty is equally of the tourists and visitors who often pollute tourist destinations and move on to other places without claiming ownership for their acts. Being a traveller, I am intensely conscious of travelling responsibly. Here's why you should too.
The environmental cost of travel
|Pollution is yellowing the Taj Mahal in Agra (Source)|
Tourist destinations are polluted in a number of different ways, some of which the tourists can control, and some, not so much. Leaving behind plastic bags, waste bottles and cans, food and drink, paper and other garbage is the most common reason for pollution of tourist places. Excessive reliance on taxis and other private transport to get around is another, albeit less known, source of environmental pollution. Accumulation of garbage in water bodies and natural ecosystems impacts animals' living conditions, often leading to mass deaths and extinction of species due to habitat destruction. Littering in public places also acts as an eyesore, putting off both residents and visitors. In this age of the Internet, this seriously tarnishes the image of the place, reducing tourist traffic and thus harming the local economy. A classic example of the effect of pollution on national heritage in India is the rapid degradation of the Taj Mahal in Agra due to severe vehicular pollution. The recent flash floods in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, were also partly attributed to relentless pollution and development in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Apart from these well-known incidences, countless water bodies around the country (and world) are shrinking, important ecosystems are being destroyed, tourist cities are becoming dumpsters, and precious little is being done to abate this gargantuan disaster.
|A boy walks on a polluted beach in Tamil Nadu (Source)|
In what ways can travellers contribute?
Eco-tourism is the need of this century. While some tourist attractions in India (such as the Andaman and Nicobar islands) have put in place strict restrictions on tourism, many parts of the country still depend on tourism to support their local economies. In such a situation, the moral responsibility of maintaining the sanctity and cleanliness of a place rests on the travellers. Littering, leaving behind garbage at tourist attractions and other such denigrating habits must strictly be avoided. As much as possible, tourists should rely on public transport or rickshaws to travel within a city. The more the number of vehicles employed in tourists' service, the more the emissions will rise. And since these rules and guiding principles are not written down in a binding document anywhere, self-regulation is the key. Moreover, the developmental activities being undertaken to attract and facilitate tourist crowds cannot be halted due to the ever-rising economic concerns of a developing country like India. But it is high time we, the travellers, became pro-active and mindful of our massive footprint on the planet. Let the impact you leave behind on this world be positive; something worth remembering you fondly for.
The global community of travellers can do a lot to save the world from pollution and degradation. Indeed, we owe it to the planet to preserve its beauty for many generations of residents and travellers to come.
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This article was originally published on my Askme on travel blog, here.