Promotion of Community based Eco-Tourism for conservation of Khewra Salt Mines in the Potohar Region
Implementing Agency: Eco-Conservation Initiatives (ECI)
Location: Khewra, Tehsil Pind Dadan Khan, District Jhelum, Punjab
Duration: December 2013 to November 2014
The project is based in the area of Khewra Salt Mines located at Khewra, north of Pind Dadan Khan which is administrative subdivision of District Jhelum. It is a major tourist attraction, drawing up to 250,000 visitors per year. Currently, Khewra Salt mines have become one of the most popular tourist sites both for the national and international tourists. To implement the project activities in the organized way, ECI conducted the baseline survey so that initial and on-ground information may be obtained from different stakeholders including local communities, tourists, NGOs/CBOs, Labor Unions, corporate sector and government / PMDC. This helped launch the proposed activities with proper approach taking into account the opinions and ideas of all the stakeholders.
Due to increasing human interventions in the backdrop of tourism and enhancing annual production of salt in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 tons per day, the local biodiversity and ecosystem are under serious threat. On the other hand, local communities who have the real ownership of this area have had been ignored for their welfare and livelihoods development. Despite generation of revenue of millions of rupees each year by the government, the standard of living of the local inhabitants is still below the poverty line. In addition to this, condition of infrastructure such as roads, settlements, educational institutions and even the main tourist resort area could be improved taking into account the emerging needs of tourism industry. Therefore, the project of initially 12 months was propounded with support from UNDP-GEF/SGP Pakistan for promotion of ecotourism through the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders so that on one hand biodiversity & environment is conserved and on the other hand, local community is enabled to generate some revenues for their livelihood development.
It is pertinent to note that PMDC is generating huge revenues through tourism in the salt mines area but unfortunately they could not maintain it properly in terms of cleanliness and conservation of biodiversity. Despite obvious instructions from the tourism section of PMDC, most of the tourists continue to throw waste material at large inside as well as outside the visiting area of the mine. This situation is detrimental for the exquisiteness of the area and degrading the local environment and biodiversity.
Beside the promotion of tourism, the corporate sector such as ICI Pakistan is also expanding in the area for manufacturing soda ash, gypsum and cement. Because of lack of proper monitoring system by the public departments, this situation is creating serious environmental hazards for the local communities and state of biodiversity. Pollution is the great threat to the sustainability of local biodiversity and environment. Therefore, the current project aimed at building capacity of local communities in the context of ecotourism so that on the one hand they may be able to earn their livelihoods while on the other hand it may help to protect the local biodiversity and environment. ECI believes in the engagement of local communities at the grassroots level having the key role to play as the main stakeholder. Therefore, the local communities were duly involved in all the project activities from planning to the implementation stage and then ownership of the successful initiatives for their sustainability.
Thematic Focus of the project
This is a multi-focal project with main focus on:
- Conservation of Environment and Biodiversity of the area
- Promotion of Community based Eco-Tourism
- Promotion of alternative energy as part of climate compatible development
The project interventions were aimed at building capacity of the local community as well as relevant stakeholders in a way that they were involved throughout the project cycle. In addition to this, some direct interventions to benefit communities mostly in-kind were also carried out as a result of project review at different stages and based on needs of the community. These interventions such as plantation of climate compatible plants, establishment of medical camp, installation of alternative energy models in 2 villages, distribution of about 150 warm fabric jackets, need based expensive medicines and marketing of their salt models were mainly carried out by seeking donations from ECI’s partner organizations.
Following tasks were accomplished by the project:
- Baseline survey of the area
- Stakeholders’ consultations with local communities, PMDC, ICI Pakistan, Dandot Cement Factory, local restaurants, tourist resort area, local NGOs and ECI project partners.
- Social mobilization of the local stakeholders throughout the implementation phase by utilization of diverse range of channels
- Training of the community members based on a Training Manual
- Preparation of modus operandi for strengthening the salt model enterprises
- Regular follow up in writing with PMDC who have already assured for provision of space to the trained local community members for shifting their salt model enterprises within the tourist resort area
- Establishment of free medical camp with distribution of free medicines of worth Rs.200,000/- in collaboration with REDO Foundation, Rawalpindi to provide treatment to about 500 women, children and adults who were suffering from pollution being emitted by the local Dandot Cement Factory
- Sensitizing local community and about 1,000 tourists about the increasing level of pollution as a result of non-conformatory environmental standards of the local cement factory.
- Sensitizing ICI Management especially of their Health Safety and Environment (HSE) section about environmental degradation of land being caused as a result of some of their production & management processes at field level.
- Organizing and celebrating community based world environment, biodiversity, food security and land desertification days in the salt range
- Submission of proposal to Dandot Cement Factory to play their role in the context of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) needed for affected local communities. The action is still required by the factory management.
Ouputs and Outcomes
- Conservation of Environment and Biodiversity
- With direct involvement of local community, 5,000 climate compatible plants were planted at some important sites as well as along PMDC main project office at Khewra. With 90% mortality of the plants, local community is convinced that additional plantation in future could bring about a significant change related to conservation of environment and biodiversity.
- The organized campaign with the involvement of relevant stakeholders and volunteers was started to clean the brine water ponds within the main salt mines area despite resistance by the PMDC as they felt threatened because of exposure for lack of their responsibility. These water ponds have been quite cleaned during implementation of the project.
- Project brochure, 5 flyers and leaflets were developed and distributed among the eco-tourists as well as all the relevant stakeholders. This created a sense of responsible tourism among the visitors.
- At different intervals, in-house awareness and education sessions were also carried out for the tourists to sensitize them about their role for conservation of the salt mines surrounding environment.
- Advocacy was carried out to influence the local Dandot Cement Factory for change of their attitudes and corporate responsibility for taking appropriate actions to reduce the dust pollution being emitted by the factory. As a last resort, some video clips were also prepared and posted at social media. This approach played a role to some extent for reducing dust pollution. However, procurement and application of dust removing equipment by the cement factory is still awaited.
- As part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the cement factory and to reduce environmental degradation, a number of proposals were submitted to the Management which are still being followed up.
- To address medical sufferings of the local community residing in vicinity of the cement factory, a day-long medical camp with support from REDO Foundation, Rawalpindi was organized and quite expensive medicines and treatment was provided to about 500 patients.
- Promotion of Community based Eco-Tourism
- A comprehensive Training Manual consisting of 5 modules with focus on promoting eco-tourism products & services as well as business plans were developed for community trainers.
- 20 community members were identified, selected and trained in the development of business plans and eco-tourism enterprises during first half of the project.
- Regular follow up was carried out in writing with PMDC who had assured for provision of space to the trained local community members for shifting their salt model enterprises within the tourist resort area.
- Profile of the Eco-Tourist Village such as Suhal Pahari was prepared for getting this site declared as the eco-tourist village in the salt range area. Efforts are underway to explore additional funding opportunities.
- Many groups from Islamabad / Rawalpindi were convinced and facilitated to visit Khewra Salt mines and also buy local salt models from the ongoing local enterprises. It helped for effective projection of eco-tourism approach.
- On the basis of several project review meetings and keeping in view needs of the community, a major change was carried out in one of the project activity. Instead of focusing on village based eco-tourism enterprise, community emphasized to seek project support for strengthening their existing salt model enterprises where main impediment was availability of space for them in the tourist resort area. Therefore, PMDC was formally contacted. They were convinced for availability of space to initially three community members. Project is also supporting them to connect with tourist groups especially from NGOs and academia for effective marketing of their products.
- Promotion of alternative energy
- For promotion of alternative energy, 2 biogas water pump models for efficient irrigation system and livelihoods development were installed in 2 villages such as Rehan Colony and Wara Buland Khan. Because of project’s efficiency resource mobilization strategy, the financial and technical support was provided by Global Water Partnership-South Asia (GWP-SAS) / Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP) with cash donation of worth Rs.500,000/
- The alternative models are working efficiently on the ground being also a complementary activity to GEF/SGP funded current eco-tourism project. In the next phase, planning is being carried out to scale-up these models to other villages after holding a farmers convention at the site. UNDP-GEF/SGP support has really triggered and leveled the ground for ECI to enhance scope of conservation activities in the salt range area of Pakistan.
- To maximize the project impacts, increase number of secondary adopters and enhancing scope of project activities, the project devised the resource mobilization strategy. As part of this strategy, ECI has had been inviting and encouraging the interest groups, tourism organizations and development partners for their visit to the project site and demonstration of project activities in operation. As a result, the project has been quite successful to mobilize the resources both in-cash and in-kind through its partners. For example, the Global Water Partnetship (GWP-South Asia) / Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP) supported with cash grant of Rs.500,000/- to establish 2 alternative energy models that were successfully installed in the project area as complimentary activity to promote alternative energy approaches as part of climate compatible development.
- ECI has good relations with the plant nursery of Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) because of its old credibility. Therefore, upon project request, PTC graciously donated 5,000+ plants in two installments as in-kind support that were planted in Khewra by signing proper undertaking with community.
- To address the health issues being caused due to high level of dust pollution from cement factory, REDO Foundation Rawalpindi facilitated in establishment of medical camp with donation of medicines of worth Rs.200,000/-
- Similarly REDO Foundation also donated 150 warm jackets to the affected community members.
Lessons Learnt and Recommendations
Based on the project interventions carried, lessons learnt and outputs & outcomes made, the project management has following recommendations for long-term sustainability of the project:
- There was a misconception among local community that only local plants could be grown in the project area. However, with successful plantation of about 5,000 plants as donated by PTC Nursery Islamabad, this impression was dispelled among the community. Therefore, it is highly imperatively that additional plantation of climate compatible plants may be carried out around Khewrs salt mines as part of environment and bio-diversity conservation.
- The local community residing in the vicinity of salt mines is sustaining below poverty lines. Their immediate requirements include provision of diversified livelihoods opportunity before focusing on promotion of community based eco-tourism. Therefore, an integrated development model project with focus on community livelihoods may be developed in the area. In these efforts, the corporate sector may also be fully involved who have their corporate social responsibility.
- PMDC is supposed to deal with extraction, management and business of minerals including salt. However, it is also taking care of the tourism component. With daily extraction of salt in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 tons and 700 to 800 visitors daily by paying tourist fee of Rs.150/- per person, PMDC is earning huge revenues but investing very little on development of the tourism facilities. This is pathetic that the road infrastructure is being improved only recently. The government needs to be properly followed up for their attention towards development of tourism facilities in the salt mines area.
- In Khewra salt mines, some disaster incidents have had been reported over the years due to excessive extraction of minerals. In such circumstances, the mines require proper annual inspection and repair work. This aspect may be properly taken care of by the Government as part of conservation of the mines and sustaining eco-tourism in this area.
- There were no good standard restaurants or motels in the tourist mines area. However, until recently two good restaurants with their ecological look have recently been established such as Nawab Bagh Restaurnt and Hayat Restaurant. They may be supported and encouraged to project themselves as eco-tourism restaurants as ECI is already coordinating with one of the restaurants.
- ICI-Pakistan, PMDC and Dandot Cement factory have major stake in the development of salt mines area but they are not taking up their responsibilities in the efficient way. They need to be followed up with properly organized advocacy campaign to draw their attention for CSR role.
- Implementing only a one year duration project for development and promotion of eco-tourism approaches in such areas is injustice. Therefore, the ongoing project may be extended for another 2 years to achieve all the objectives preferably under GEF-6 operational phase.
- There is need to organize local community, educational institutions, development organizations and corporations for understanding and clarity of the eco-tourism approach in the salt range area.
- The alternative energy approaches may be further promoted in view of increasing energy prices and to enable the local communities for saving their energy costs. The biogas water pump models that also provide energy for irrigation, cooking and lightening may be replicated in other villages as people are showing interest to adopt these models.
- Beside salt mines, there are several other important eco-tourist sites identified by the project including Tobar Valley, Sohal Pahari, Choona Pahari and many walking tracks on the hills. These may also be promoted among the eco-tourists so that instead of half or day long trip, they should stay one or two nights in the salt mines areas instead to directly moving to Kalar Kahar tourist resort which is comparatively better accommodation and fun facilities.
- The tradition of celebrating a local festival in the Khewra salt mines area may also be promoted for attraction of more tourists and to generate revenues as part of community livelihoods development efforts.