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Garbage, animal waste is polluting our glaciers`

The three glaciers of Concordia Baltoro, Biafo and Godwin Austen are one of the largest freshwater resources in the world.

But since Concordia is also a haven for climbers and tourists attacking the legendary mountains of the Karakoram and Himalayan ranges, it is also one of the most polluted areas in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.While this state of affairs has gone unchecked for many years, a small group of concerned locals and passionate mountain-lovers have come together to form High Altitude Sustainability Pakistan (HASP); a trust that aims to clean up the glacier and promote the rights of local guides and porters. Dawn caught up with Hanniah Tariq, one of the brains behind the initiative, on a trip to Islamabad.Q: How did the idea of forming HASP come about? A: The idea struck me when I was on a trek up north. We met with two locals who run an NGO called Khurpa Care khurpa being the Balti word for `porter` that worked for the welfare of porters. I met them again when I went back to shoot a documentary with a friend and that`s when I decided to just get a fund started.

This was almost a two-year conversation since this was in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Nanga Parbat base camp where we talked about everything from security issues to how to keep tours going.

When I talked to the locals, their biggest issue was the contamination of the Baltoro Glacier, which has a lot of garbage on it. Everybody knows that water supplies are polluted to a certain level, but when they started painting me a picture, I realised the situation was horrible.

It`s not just garbage up there, there are decomposing animal carcasses and other biological waste that can really contaminate the glacier. I just thought that it shouldn`t be that way, especially not inside an area that is a designated national park.

Q: What makes you confident you can affect a change big enough to reverse the effects of sustained pollution on the glacier? A: We aren`t the first people to try and clean up the glacier; the Italians have done good job and the Alpine Club has been doing clean-ups in the past. But it is the animal waste that is the real challenge. Most people, especially volunteers, don`t have the stomach for that kind of thing.

The locals do, but they don`t usually have the funds to organise that kind of effort.

The biggest hurdle to achieving economic sustainability up there is the fact that thereis almost no local industry to speak of. If you live in the mountains, you either work for the government, or you`re a farmer or you work in the tourism industry; there aren`t many choices. So we realised that in order for things to improve, these people have to be able to help themselves.

This is why we are now working with Khurpa Care on the welfare of porters, holding first-aid trainings and other workshops for them. Recently, our khurpas identified five villages where most of the high-altitude manpower comes from and we will soon hold trainings there as well.

Q: How does the trust work? How do you pay your bills and where do your volunteers come from? A: We have a board that has decision-making powers. Our funds come from our members, who have committed a small yearly amount each. It`s not much but it keeps us going.

Right now, our membership base is very small, but we are hoping that more individuals will step up to take responsibility for our glaciers. More members will help make this an active coalition that can spark real change.

Ali Hussain Shigri, Zahid Rajput and Sajwal Rajput of Khurpa Care have been invaluable technical guides. For the rest of the work, there`s only one of me.

This means that I`m mostly in the field, and I`m exhausted. There`s some wonderful kids from the Lyceum school in Karachi who have helped us with some fundraising activities and I`m hoping they will help me put up a Kickstarter page so we can finally crowdsource funds.

By Hassan Belal Zaidi