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HL Save the Alps; Philanthropist blames tourism for problems

Byline: Janice Neil

Credit: CP

DD 02/06/90

SO Ottawa Citizen (OTT)

Edition: Final

Section: NEWS

Page: B8

Category: NEWS


LP --- Save the Alps; Philanthropist blames tourism for problems --- Surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, one of the world's major philanthropists launched a campaign Monday to save the Alps from the onslaught of people.

TX The 1,000-kilometre mountain range, traversing seven European countries, is threatened by almost every environmental problem * imaginable, said Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, president of the Bellerive Foundation spearheading the campaign. "Slowly but surely the mountains are being eroded and in some places reduced to deserts," he said. "I blame tourism for this explosion of chaotic development of the mountains." "There are too many ski lifts, too many hotels, too many chalets, and too many cars," he told reporters at one of the fanciest hotels in this ski resort. Rockies protected Fortunately, he said, the Canadian Rockies have avoided the same malaise. They have been protected from over-development by Canada's national parks system, he said. Sadruddin is the uncle of the Agha Khan and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is currently co-ordinator of the UN's relief effort for victims of the civil war in Afghanistan. The Geneva-based Bellerive Foundation, founded in 1977 by Sadruddin to study scientific, technological and peace issues, calculates there are 40,000 ski runs throughout the seven Alpine countries, carrying 1.2 million passengers to summits each hour during peak season. Countless roads and highways carry more traffic than in any other mountain system in the world, he said. Exhaust fumes are killing natural wildlife and vegetation. The Swiss Forest Institute estimates that at least 50 per cent of the trees in the Alps are dying, resulting in serious soil erosion. Costly avalanche barriers must be erected in place of trees that once kept back excess snow, but have now fallen to the erosion or been chopped down. The Council of Europe recently reported that several hundred species of fauna and flora are disappearing in the mountain regions. "So much depends on the Alps -- tourism, resorts, sporting equipment and other industries," the prince said. "But if we don't have sustainable tourism we'll all pay a very high price in terms of the environment." Sadruddin said he's not against tourism, but he would like to see a moratorium on further development. But chain saws, bulldozers and cranes are clearing away more natural habitat and farmland at Albertville, France, site of the 1992 Winter Olympics, he said. Sadruddin said the little protective legislation that exists is too often "inappropriate, ineffective and ignored." He is pessimistic about persuading seven national governments to work in concert to enact tougher laws. His plan is to link the private sector with environmentalists. "The time has come to put an end to the business community being constantly attacked by environmentalists without being able to do something," he said. "The private sector has the means, the expertise and goodwill to be associated with projects." 'Reverse trend' Sadruddin said his contacts with both business leaders and environmentalists will "provide links to make a small dent and reverse this trend in the Alps." He will present his program today to nearly 1,000 top business and financial leaders from around the world attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. He proposes to find corporate sponsors for programs ranging from collecting scientific data on Alpine birds to evaluating the predicted effects of global warming on the Alps' forests, lakes and rivers. He also wants support for printing a code of ethics on plastic "credit cards" to distribute to tourists telling them how they can avoid damaging the environment. Sadruddin said he has already found several sponsors, including a Swiss chocolate manufacturer and various European banks.

ILLUSTRATION: CP file photo/ Threatened: Campaign aims to save Alps from chaotic development @Art: P @Art: CP file photo/ Threatened: Campaign aims to save Alps from chaotic development

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