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Covid-19 adversely affected nascent tourism sector in AJK: report

24th November 2022 | Iftikhar A. Khan

The bulging tourism sector has suffered horrendously in Azad Jammu and Kashmir leaving almost half a million people associated with the industry high and dry because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A research report published by a non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR) says over 48,000 individuals in the state have so far contracted Covid.

Titled Azad Jammu and Kashmir: Impact of Covid-19 on Marginalised Communities, the report notes that Covid-19 had a severe impact on most sectors but the nascent tourism sector in AJK was one of the worst-hit sectors.

The people of AJK have heavily banked on domestic tourism for their livelihoods for the last couple of years. During the pandemic, hundreds of hotels and guest houses as well as the tour operators, drivers and workers had been out of work while the people who were indirectly relying on tourism-related activities were also left with no job.

Over the years, AJK has emerged as a major tourist destination for domestic tourism. In 2018, over 1.4 million tourists visited AJK. The influx of tourists then increased to 1.5 million in 2019.

Keeping in view the potential increase in the number of tourists heading to the region, massive infrastructure was built in recent years, particularly in areas like the Neelum Valley and Poonch. The government of AJK had got several tourist resorts renovated in Kotli, Poonch and Muzaffarabad districts. However, Covid-19 has slowed down all development plans and brought the tourism industry to a halt.

The report highlights that the pandemic hit the poor in AJK the hardest as strict lockdowns and the cessation of various economic activities caused major income cuts for them in the region. Worst, shelling and firing by India from across the Line of Control (LoC) also continued during this period, which forced the people to face a double lockdown as they tried to protect themselves from the virus as well as the bullets.

The report provides authentic data and first-hand information about local women in particular, who lost their basic sources of income and were rendered into extreme kind of poverty.

The education sector witnessed the largest disruption in recent history, shifting the traditional ways of learning to the online mode.

However, the digital divide, lack of preparedness, and the inability of students to access the online modes of learning due to poverty and poor internet facilities kept them from continuing their learning.

In some cases, this situation served to further exacerbate the economic woes of the common people, leading to a physical and mental health crisis among the masses. These are some of the findings of the research conducted by the CPDR team led by Ershad Mahmud, Irtaza Mohammad, and Aniqa Aziz.

The report suggests that, since the pandemic is still an evolving story and has a deep impact on every arena of life, urgent steps are needed to save people. Our economic, social, and political systems need to be rebuilt in such a manner that the lives of the most affected people, who are still the most vulnerable ones, get better.

They should be included in the decision-making process and an effective financial mechanism should be devised for them by the government. The tourism sector should be provided with support and internet facilities to help it keep pace with the modern world.

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