Tour guide Adil Lahorei was told by his clients from Eastern Europe that it was time to head north immediately as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius in the capital city of Punjab state.
In May, Pakistan witnessed its hottest April in 61 years. March had been the ninth driest since 1961. The heatwave meant Lahore’s traditional springtime had already begun betraying elements of peak summer.
“Usually the travel itinerary for foreign tourists includes staying for a few days in Lahore,” Adil said. “Some even head down to southern parts of Punjab, and then they leave for the north after a week or so. But this year guests who arrived in April and even March wanted to leave for the mountains right away.”
Pakistani authorities issued warnings that temperatures up to nine degrees Celsius above normal were expected. As a result, Lahore’s tourism industry – accustomed to foreign visitors until the end of May – was shell-shocked.
Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city and 25km (15 miles) from the Indian border, has been a cultural hub for centuries, with architectural heritage giving hat tips to the British and the Mughals among the many rulers to have governed this much-coveted land. However, the decades-old quest of global travelers to explore Lahore’s rich history has been hit by one crisis after another.
“In case anyone wants to look at harmful impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, Lahore is an excellent example,” said Tauqeer Qureshi, former director of Punjab’s Environmental Protection Department.
He said the failure to implement environmental regulations and a lack of political will continue to exacerbate Pakistan’s environmental troubles and, in turn, its struggles with tourism.
Environmentalist Saima Baig said Lahore’s plight cannot be corrected as industrial emissions, the burning of crop residue, brick kilns and general waste continue to go unchecked.
“All of these can be reversed with good environmental policies that fine industries for emissions, work with farmers to stop them from burning fields and find alternatives, and a more efficient and effective waste management policy,” she said.
“Vehicle maintenance and promoting electric vehicles should be part of the country’s overall climate policy. While solar energy is being promoted now, it is essential to look into other renewable technologies like wind energy and even wave energy [to address climate change].”
Tourism development expert Ashfaq Khan said when he was studying the sector in Europe four decades ago, it was taught that weather is the primary factor. “But the urban planning in Lahore continues to be carried out as if to deliberately aggravate the impacts of global warming,” Khan said.
“They’re replacing the green countryside with more and more cement. I feel embarrassed every time I tell my guests, ‘Welcome to the City of Gardens’,” he said, “Everyone Pakistani should plant a tree. The country needs a green revolution … Tourism, or anything in the country for that matter, will not prosper if we don’t get our priorities straight.”
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES