By Marianela Jarroud

The Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPSThe Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPSSAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, Chile, Sep 22 (IPS) - Chile's Altiplano or high plateau region, pounded by the sun of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, is home to dozens of indigenous communities struggling for subsistence by means of sustainable tourism initiatives that are not always that far removed from out-of-control capitalism.

"Here, money talks," Víctor Arque, a tourist guide in San Pedro de Atacama, told Tierramérica. "If you don't have money, no one's interested in you."

San Pedro de Atacama, the capital of tourism, archaeology and astronomy in northern Chile, is home to 4,800 people, 61 percent of whom belong to the Atacameño indigenous group, who refer to themselves as Lickantay in their Kunza tongue.

But during tourist season, hundreds of thousands of visitors come through the town, especially people from other countries drawn by the mysteries of the desert, its volcanoes and geysers.

The desert also offers some of the clearest night skies on the planet, and in the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA Observatory, scientists are working to decipher enigmas of the night sky.

This small highlands town, located at 2,600 metres above sea level and 1,700 km north of Santiago, received over 1.6 million visitors from Chile and abroad in 2014, according to National Tourism Service statistics.

Tourists are awed by the stunning, unique landscape of salt flats, dunes, rock formations, geysers, thermal waters, crystal clear blue lagoons, canyons and snow-capped mountains.

In fact San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, has become the leading Chilean destination for foreign tourists.

But there is well-founded concern in some sectors that the uncontrolled flood of tourists in the area will damage the diverse ecosystems in the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, which covers 23,439 sq km.

The municipal authorities, together with the regional government, have launched several initiatives aimed at ensuring sustainable development.

One was the Project on Ecosystem Services (ProEcoServ), financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The project was extended to 2014, with 1.5 million dollars in financing. It consisted of generating tools for the assessment and economic valuation of ecosystem services.

In May a group of local residents completed a training in renewable alternative energies that could help solve the municipality's electricity problems.

In July, 14 hotels, hostels and restaurants received the "Clean Production Agreement" certification, which foments environmentally friendly practices such as sustainable management of solid waste and efficient water and energy use.

"All planning or studies indicating how we can do better and raise awareness of what we have and what is happening in the ecosystem are valuable," San Pedro de Atacama Mayor Sandra Berna told Tierramérica.

"I would like people to be more aware, to understand what science and studies say about our ecosystem," she said.

Despite the progress made, the small centre of the town is packed with businesses offering tours to the main local attractions.

And in the wee morning hours on any given day in tourist season you can see a long line of headlights of cars winding their way up to the El Tatio geysers, one of the principal tourist attractions in the area, which receives an average of 100,000 visits a year.

El Tatio, which in the Kunza language means "grandfather who cries", is a field of 80 geysers located at 4,200 metres above sea level, 97 km from San Pedro de Atacama.

It is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world, following Yellowstone in the United States and Dolina Giezerov in Russia.

Since September 2014, this natural marvel has been administered by the indigenous communities of the highlands villages of Toconce and Caspana, through a 30-year "free use concession" granted by the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

Dawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPSDawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPSTourists from Chile and abroad pay an entrance fee to visit El Tatio. But in addition, leaders of the local indigenous communities charge nearly 1,000 dollars for an interview with the press.

"That's because this is then published around the world, and it's you people who earn the profits," the mayor of the village of Caspana, Ernesto Colimar, told Tierramérica.

Contrite, Luisa Terán, an Atacameño Indian from the same village, hastily clarified that this was an isolated case.

"There are people here who are mad about money, but not all of us are like that," said Terán, who along with her cousin attended a course in India to become a "barefoot solar engineer" and installed the first solar panels in Caspana. "Most of us work hard for a living and try to protect our community," she told Tierramérica.

The majority of the highlands villagers in Chile are family farmers who grow their own food and raise llamas, vicuñas and guanacos.

In communities like Caspana, 114 km from San Pedro de Atacama, local residents still use pre-Hispanic farming techniques, such as terraces.

Others, like the town of Chiu Chiu, have more limited tourist attractions, like the local church, although it was left nearly in ruins by the 2007 earthquake that hit Antofagasta.

Along the road between El Tatio and San Pedro is found Machuca. Although it is nearly a ghost town, it is an obligatory stop for tour guides.

Located 4,000 metres above sea level, in the hamlet of 20 houses there is one church, the main attraction for tourists, who buy traditional llama meat "anticuchos" or kebabs and goat cheese "empanadas" or hand pies.

The village has only a handful of residents, and is kept alive to receive tourists. Members of the families who used to live here take turns coming up to attend the visitors.

Only the buildings and landscape can be photographed: to take pictures of the members of the community, you have to pay.

"All of us want tourists to come, of course; you tell me what community wouldn't want that, if it means more investment and if it means people could come back," Terán said.

"Our peoples are almost destined to disappear, because every year dozens of families go to the cities so their children can study, or for work, so this would help us survive," she added.

But "no one wants their town to become what San Pedro de Atacama is now, because that is the other extreme," she said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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Wild Asia Responsible Tourism AwardsWild Asia Responsible Tourism AwardsSeptember 7, 2015 (Bangalore, INDIA) - Today Wild Asia proudly revealed the winners of the ninth Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards. For the first time, the announcement and celebration was held at PATA Travel Mart, this year at Bangalore, India, and generously sponsored by World Nomads Travel Insurance. The Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards are an opportunity for shining stars in sustainability to gain international recognition for their efforts to create better places to live and better places to visit. The Winners represent leadership in commitment to benefiting their local communities and natural environment, whilst providing authentic and meaningful travel experiences for visitors from around the world. The Awards are based in the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, and all recipients go through an in-depth review and assessed by a panel of international travel industry experts.

The following collection of businesses and initiatives has social and environmental ethics at heart and range in sizes, locations, and age. Wild Asia shares these inspirational stories with an aim to create positive change in the tourism industry though business to business best practice.

Best in Community Engagement and Development
This award recognizes exceptional commitment to supporting the local community and economy in which your business operates.

Winner: Lanjia Lodge, Thailand. 
High on a hill in northern Thailand, Lanjia Lodge offers visitors intimate cultural experiences, whether a locally guided village tour, trek, or a boating excursion down the mighty Mekong and ensures the local communities are involved in all of their projects. 
Finalists - Xintuo Ecotourism, China; CRDTours, Cambodia

Best in Protection of Natural Areas & Wildlife Conservation.
This award recognizes tourism businesses’ consideration of their local environment and biodiversity by actively supporting and protecting their natural assets.

Winner: Gaya Island, Malaysia 
Tucked along the coast of Malohom Bay, Gaya Island Resort integrates luxury and the natural world. Offering a set of “PURE Activities” guests can interact with the surrounding rare species of flora and
fauna, facilitated by the resort’s resident naturalist. 
Finalist - Club Med Cherating, Malaysia

Best in Resource Efficiency
This award recognizes excellence in waste, water and energy management and sustainable architectural
design in order to minimize your business’s environmental impact.

Winner: Jetwing Yala, Sri Lanka. 
Boasting Sri Lanka’s largest privately owned solar installation, guests at Jetwing Yala can fully relax thanks to the resort’s commitment to renewable resources. Embarking on Jetwing Yala’s “Green Tour” gives guests a greater understanding of the resort’s environmental initiatives.

Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Operator
This award recognizes the tourism operator that excels by taking into consideration all the key principles of responsible tourism (maximum positive impacts to the local community and minimum negative impacts to the environment) and awards innovation for this most inspiring tourism business of the year.

Winner: Nikoi Island, Indonesia.
Situated off the Indonesian coast Nikoi Island offers guests a private getaway and peace of mind thanks to their environmental initiatives. With the majority of the island left untouched, Nikoi gives guests an intimate introduction to the natural environment with activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, and trekking.
Finalists - El Nido Resorts, Philippines; Khiri Travel group, Thailand

Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Initiative
This award recognizes grass-roots initiatives championing responsible tourism within their destination. 

Winner: Kinyei, Cambodia. 
Kinyei combines two initiatives, Kinyei Cafe and Soksabike to enrich their local community in Battambang. Soksabike gives tourists an off-the-beaten-path cycling experience while Kinyei Café provides vocational training opportunities for local youths and a refreshing break for the cyclists.
Finalists - CBT Vietnam, Vietnam; EXO Foundation, Cambodia

For more information please visit

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Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPSStudents and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPSBy José Adán Silva

ALTAGRACIA, Nicaragua, Sep 07 (IPS) - A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.

It all began in 2007. María del Rosario Gutiérrez remembers her initial interest was piqued when she saw people who scavenged for waste in Managua's garbage dumps fighting over the contents of bags full of plastic bottles, glass and metal.

How much could garbage be worth for people to actually hurt each other over it? she wondered. She was living in extreme poverty, raising her two children on her own with what she grew on a small piece of communal land in the municipality of Altagracia, and the little she earned doing casual work.

Gutiérrez talked to a neighbour, who told her that in Moyogalpa, the other town on the island, there was an office that bought scrap metal, glass and plastic bottles.

The two women checked around and found in their community a person who bought waste material from local hotels, washed it and sold it to Managua for recycling.

So Gutiérrez, who is now 30 years old, got involved in her new activity: every day she walked long distances with a bag over her shoulder, picking up recyclable waste around the island.

Her neighbour and other poor, unemployed women started to go with her. Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.

"It wasn't a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on our tables. And since we didn't have jobs, it didn't matter to us how much time it took, although the work was really exhausting at first," Gutiérrez told IPS.

Women filling enormous bags with scraps of trash have now become a common sight along the streets on the island.

Seeds of change

Miriam Potoy, with the Fundación entre Volcanes, said her non-governmental organisation decided to support women who were scavenging for a living, starting with a group in Moyogalpa.

"We initially helped them with safety and hygiene equipment, then with training on waste handling and treatment and the diversified use of garbage, so they could sell it as well as learn how to make crafts using the materials collected, to sell them to tourists and earn an extra income," she told IPS.

Impressed by the women's efforts, other institutions decided to support them as well.

The Altagracia city government gave them a place to collect, classify and sort the waste, tourism businesses that previously separated their garbage to sell recyclable materials decided to donate them to the women, and food and services companies provided equipment and assistance.

Solidarity and cooperation with the group grew to the point that the city government obtained funds to pay the women nearly two dollars a day for a time, and provide them with free transportation to take their materials to the wharf, where they were shipped to the city of Rivas. From there, the shipments go by road to Managua, 120 km away.

"The community appreciates the women's work not only because they help keep the island clean, which has clearly improved its image for tourists, but also because they have showed a strong desire to improve their own lives and their families' incomes," said Potoy.

And they have done this "by means of a non-traditional activity, which broke down the stereotype of the role women have traditionally played in these remote rural communities," she said.

Francis Socorro Hernández, another woman from the first batch of recyclers, told IPS that at the start "it was embarrassing for people to see us picking up garbage."

Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPSWomen from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPSBut she said that after taking workshops on gender issues, administration of micro-businesses, and the environment, "I realised I was doing something important, and that it was worse to live in a polluted environment, resigned to my poverty - and I stopped feeling ashamed."

Their work also inspired other initiatives. For example, Karen Paladino, originally from Germany but now a Nicaraguan national, is the director of the community organisation Environmental Education Ometepe, which works with children and young people on the island in environmental awareness-raising campaigns.

When Paladino learned about the work of the recyclers, she got students and teachers in local schools to support their cause, organising clean-up days to collect waste which is donated to the women's garbage collection and classification centre.

Ometepe is a 276-sq-km natural island paradise in the middle of the 8,624-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, in the west of this Central American nation of 6.1 million people.

Not everything is peaches and cream

Of the 10 women who started the collective - now the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia – six are left.

They continue to scavenge for recyclable waste material, removing it from the island and shipping it to Managua, where it is sold. They make enough for their families to scrape by.

Gutiérrez said the mission has been difficult because of the high cost of transport, the job insecurity, and the scant financing they have found.

"We have always had support, thank God; the city government supported us, some hotels have too, people from the European Union gave us funds for improving the conditions of the landfill," she said.

"But we need more funds, to be able to collect and transport the material, process it, and remove it from the island," she added.

With backing from the EU, the city government of Moyogalpa was able to improve the garbage dumps of the island's two municipalities. Now there are large sheds in both dumps, where organic material is treated, as well as containers for producing organic compost using worms, and rainwater collection tanks.

The two municipalities also gave the recyclers plots of land for growing their own vegetables and grains for their families.

But the efforts and the solidarity were not sufficient to keep some of the women from dropping out.

As global oil prices plunged, the value of waste products also dropped, and profits did the same, which discouraged some of the women who went back to what they used to do: combining farm work with domestic service.

"I was really committed to the work of collecting garbage, but all of a sudden I felt that the project wasn't doing well and I needed to feed my family, so I went with my husband to plant beans and vegetables to earn a better income," María, one of the former members, told IPS.

"But I still collect waste products anyway, and although I'm not participating anymore, I donate them to my former mates in the collective," said María, who did not give her last name.

But while some of the women dropped out, others joined. "The waste keeps pouring in, and support for our work is going to grow. Our families back us and we are enthusiastic," one of the new women, Eveling Urtecho, told IPS.

With Gutiérrez's leadership, backing from the city government, and renewed assistance from the EU, the women are confident that their incomes and working conditions will soon improve.

Ometepe – which means ‘two mountains' in the Nahuatl tongue – is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists a year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually, according to figures from local environmental groups.

The association of Altagracia gathers between 1,000 and 1,200 kg of plastic a month, and their counterparts in Moyogalpa collect a similar amount.

Until the women launched their revolution, most of the waste in Ometepe ended up strewn about on the streets, in rivers and in backyards, or was burnt in huge piles. When it rained, the water would wash the refuse into the lake.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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Jungle Bay destroyed by tropical storm Ericka, all workers & guests safe but nearby village devastated.Jungle Bay destroyed by tropical storm Ericka, all workers & guests safe but nearby village devastated.September 3, 2015 (Roseau, DOMINICA): Jungle Bay resort in Dominica sustained catastrophic damage as a result of mudslides and flooding from Tropical Storm Erika on August 27, 2015. All 43 guests, including children who were staying at the resort on the night of the storm, are now homeward bound. All Jungle Bay staff survived. However, the surrounding villages were significantly affected by this natural disaster. As a result, all former Jungle Bay staff will lose their livelihoods. The 35-cottage Jungle Bay spa and wellness resort is now permanently closed and estimates of damage are still being assessed.

Petite Savanne, a nearby village where many Jungle Bay staff lived, suffered the greatest loss of life. While the official death toll is still unknown, loss of life is believed to be around 20 persons including relatives of Jungle Bay staff. One employee alone lost 13 relatives in the mudslides. The remaining population of Petite Savanne was evacuated by helicopter and sea, as the area was deemed unstable. They will be permanently relocated.

“This unfortunate disaster has shattered the lives of all our employees, but especially those from Petite Savanne. They must now restart their lives. In addition to having lost their homes, all possessions, and family, they also have lost their livelihood. Jungle Bay too was destroyed and will be unable to re-open”, said Samuel Raphael the Developer and Managing Director who was bestowed the 2010 Best in Personal Contribution to Responsible Tourism by Virgin Holidays Travel Awards.

Guests who were staying at the resort during Tropical Storm Erika first took shelter in Jungle Bay’s stone and steel reinforced yoga studio.  They were later moved to the primary school in the nearby village of Delices and were evacuated by helicopter to Roseau on August 30th. The French Embassy was an instrumental partner in facilitating the air evacuation to ensure safety of all guests, who were primarily from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique as well as Canada.

“10 years ago this year, Jungle Bay opened as a noble concept. At its core was a group of passionate hard working individuals who believed in the power of community. These individuals represented former banana farmers and construction workers, housewives, and inexperienced youth from nearby villages. With training and dedication, they evolved to become a family of compassionate, professional individuals, united in the purpose to exceed international visitors expectations as evident in Jungle Bay’s numerous accolades” says Samuel from a disaster recovery center in Roseau Dominica.

Around 100 families have dedicated themselves to making Jungle Bay the leading Caribbean sustainable tourism model including 56 staff, farmers, fishermen and service providers. “We call ourselves the Jungle Bay family” and live by the simple motto that “our job is to make every guest happy”.

Local residents are posting messages of sorrow online: “Jungle Bay, the economic engine of our community is gone”.

Sam’s appeal is first and foremost to help the displaced staff of the resort, who have lost their livelihood.“These people that many of you and I have all come to know and love need help urgently!“

 Jungle Bay, its staff, and past guests have greatly contributed to those less fortunate in our community through a series of initiatives. These initiatives include thousands of dollars in support, volunteer time, and creation of infrastructure, continued support for the House of Hope home for disabled individuals, revival of libraries through Open Books Open Minds, mentorship of young entrepreneurs, general care, wellbeing and health initiatives, and overall contributing to the social development of the community.

Support is greatly needed and can be directed to help the local community as follows:

1) Donate funds to the Jungle Bay Community Fund.

Pay by credit card at or pay by bank wire transfer Click here for details.

2) Forward and share this message with others in the global community who may be able to help.

3) Ship emergency relief items.

Money is the preferred means of support in disaster relief as it allows the community the fluidity of purchasing items of greatest need. If you wish to ship, please select items from our emergency needs list: These items also are greatly appreciated and needed. The donors pay shipping to the US Virgin Islands. Samuel Raphael will then fly the cargo via Hummingbird Airlines to Dominica. He will ensure it reaches the victims.


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