Issyk-Kul: Chasing short-term profit
There are many ways for a developing country to make its economy work and improve. Since Kyrgyzstan, like its neighboring countries does not have reliable natural resources such as gas, cotton fields or oil, it tries to rely on tourism as one of the maybe not fundamental, but a profitable sector of economy. Last decade a number of private firms started to establish and today lots of small and big tourism companies function in the industry. Issyk-Kul has attracted many tourists from different parts of the world by turning into one of the major source of tourism development. Kyrgyz government is trying to attract foreign investment to develop the infrastructure of tourism.
Called “The Pearl of Central Asia” Issyk-Kul is believed to be one of 20 ancient lakes on earth and is estimated to be approximately 25 million years old. At 2,300 feet deep, 105 miles long and 43 miles across, Lake Issyk-Kul is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. And at 5250 feet above sea level, Lake Issyk-Kul is also the world’s second largest alpine lake, after Lake Titicaca in South America.
However, there is a big question one has to ask: do we really want to develop the tourism industry? Even though it brings many benefits for the economy and for the people, there is a high risk of negative effects and consequences. There is an argument that tourism in least developed countries can bring enormous ecological and environmental damages. According to State Secretary Adahan Madumarov, last year 1,2 million tourists visited Issyk-Kul. This year the number of tourists is anticipated to achieve almost 1,5 million people. Environmental specialists and experts believe that this is to much for Issyk-Kul since it can allow maximum of 1 million tourists a year.
Recently I had a chat with a family living nearby the lake Issyk-Kul, in the village called Bosteri. Each year all 6 members of the family impatiently wait for summer with a great hope to earn money. This coming summer is not an exception. They own a small café on the shore of the lake offering meal service to visiting tourists. People living in the villages close to the lake make a good profit during “hot season” in summer providing service to tourists. They seem to be least concerned about the consequences as long as they make money for living.
It made me think deeply about the future fate of the lake and the consequences of such a phenomenon. So, is it really worth chasing for profit at the expense of ecology? What will be the future of the lake and nearby regions in 30-40 years?
I believe that one of the solutions to this problem is a responsible tourism, or ecotourism. Ecotourism means minimizing the negative impact of tourism on the environment, bringing both economic social benefits to the inhabitants of the area. It also contributes to conservation of natural and cultural heritage and includes local communities in its planning, development and operation. Many global and international environmental organizations believe that ecotourism has great potential for sustainable development. Kyrgyzstan should make an emphasis on ecotourism as a way to promote sustainable tourism. Well-planned and managed ecotourism has proven to be one of the most effective tools for long-term conservation of biodiversity.
If tourism companies start focusing on these goals of ecotourism it will bring a lot more profit in the long run, because if the environment and local people get social benefits from the tourism business, this will bring more benefits back to the tourism market. These benefits should be distributed evenly all over the country; all the small villages nearby the lake should have their shares in these benefits.