Cleaning Earth’s highest rubbish dump

Climbers on Mount Everest will be forced to bring back eight kilograms of garbage, an official said on Monday, to clean up a peak that has become the world’s highest rubbish dump.

The rule, one of several new measures covering mountaineering in the Himalayan nation, will apply to climbers ascending beyond Everest’s base camp from April onwards, said tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti.

“The government has decided in order to clean up Mount Everest that each member of an expedition must bring back at least eight kilos of garbage, apart from their own trash,” he told AFP.

Burlakoti, who is joint secretary at the ministry, said authorities would take legal action against climbers who failed to comply with the new rule, although it was unclear whether this would involve a fine or the confiscation of their mandatory deposit.

Decades of mountaineering have taken a toll on the world’s highest peak, which is strewn with rubbish from past expeditions, including oxygen cylinders, human waste and even climbers’ bodies, which do not decompose in the extreme cold.

Last month Nepal slashed fees for individual climbers on the famed mountain and other Himalayan peaks to attract more mountaineers, sparking concerns of increased traffic and more garbage.

Everest, scaled for the first time by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, is a key revenue-earner for the impoverished country, with hundreds heading there every year during the peak climbing season in April and May.

Under the new rules Everest expeditions will have to take their trash to an office which will be set up next month at base camp.

The office will also offer medical aid and resolve conflicts, with soldiers and police on duty to avoid a repeat of the brawl between European climbers and local guides last year which shocked the mountaineering community.

Dawa Sherpa, expedition manager at Asian Trekking which organises an annual clean-up tour to Everest, said the proposal was “an encouraging measure to try and keep the mountain clean”.

The Eco Everest Expedition has collected some 15 tons of garbage, 600kg of human waste and six bodies since 2008, Sherpa told AFP.

He said local Sherpa guides could collect and deliver trash to base camp instead of returning empty-handed from acclimatisation ascents to set up tents for foreign climbers on the mountain.

“Ultimately, the success of the regulation will depend on how strictly officials monitor its progress,” he said.

Although expeditions currently have to fork out a $4 000 (about R40 000) deposit, refunded once they show they have brought back everything they took up the mountain, enforcement has been a problem.

“Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don’t bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalise them,” tourism official Burlakoti said.

The government is also considering plans to build toilets at base camp, where the shifting ice means structures are at risk of falling down.

In an overhaul of security on the mountain, soldiers and police will be stationed at the new office at base camp so climbers can approach them with any problems, officials said last month.

Environmental and climbing groups have long sought to focus attention on the mess left behind by expeditions while clean-up projects have also been organised.

Discarded oxygen and cooking gas cylinders, ropes, tents, glasses, beer cans, plastic and even the remains of a helicopter made up 75 artworks commissioned for a Kathmandu exhibition in 2012, highlighting the environmental impact of alpine tourism.

source: Independent Online, 04 Mar 2014

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