The Myth of Tourism and Development
Reading a news item on the BBC website concerning the lack of tourism in a remote, and relatively secure, corner of Afghanistan, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of two opposing moral imperatives tugging away at either side of me: those of finding real, meaningful and empowering routes out of poverty for the worlds poorest, and not destroying the planet at the same time.
The problem runs thus: an area with few resources and enormous deprivation (in this case, to the point people eat poisonous crops because they can’t make enough bread), but which has huge beauty of the kind for which there is currently nearly endless demand, can make huge amounts of money from people visiting their region. But the people who could bring the most money are those furthest away. They generally don’t have time to spend traveling the long way around to the area, so, if they are to go at all, it must be by plane. Huge carbon emissions, at high altitude, are then created.
But bare in mind that this area, as the report itself tells us, lost 6000 head of livestock to freak weather, a phrase we’ve all heard before. Afghanistan has always had the problem of too few resources for anything but warring and marauding since the days of Alexander the Great if not earlier, and so global warming isn’t simply going to make the going tough; it will, for many, make it near impossible. And yet, to many, the obvious solution is some kind of tourism.
I’m sure plenty of people would immediately have hopes that this tourism would be sensitive to the needs of the population, and would take active steps to reduce the impact of visitors whilst in the area. Small scale recycling projects could provide additional jobs, and hotels could be built to huge environmental standards, using as local a material and labour supply as physically possible. Food could be prepared in traditional ways, even if most of it had to be brought in by the traders who currently visit (for whom their might be much needed benefits too). But this will only ever be outweighed by the damage that growth in aviation will cause, the more so if it is the only area of emissions consistently ignored by governments and international agreements.
So sadly, much as I like the idea of people traveling to these lands to provide meaningful employment and vital cash, this simply is not a solution. But what solution can be found? To force these people to migrate is simply not an option, especially not given the deprivation most migrants find themselves in, nor the cultural destruction this would involve. There aren’t the resources for them to make anything for us to sell in return for cash for them; FairTrade doesn’t work when your only resource is dramatic landscapes!