Prepared by TMA member Wembley, WA: Dr David Rowse
It’s that time of year when we get more trekkers through the travel clinic in search of advice about safety in the mountains for their coming adventure. These intrepid travellers will be either trekking by themselves or in groups and most will be seeking the assistance to help get them up and down the mountain safely. As a result in these mountain regions all over the world, thousands of locals work as trekking and climbing porters carrying extraordinary loads up and down trails.
However these porters are often considered among the lowest social positions within the community and too frequently are exploited by their employers who pay poor wages, do nothing to improve the working conditions and this results in very ill equipped with insufficient clothing or footwear
In 1997 there was a tragedy in which a young Nepali porter employed by a trekking company became severely ill with altitude illness. He was paid off and sent down alone. It took just another 30 hours for him to die. He was 20 years old and left behind a wife and 2 small children. The International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) was formed to prevent such tragedies.
It is a fact that more porters suffer from accidents and altitude sickness than western trekkers and that every year porters die unnecessarily on the job. Many are affected so badly by frost bite or snow blindness that they are unable to work again and unable to support their families.
Whether its Nepal, Pakistan, Tanzania, Peru or any other trekking destination, the problems faced by trekking porters share are the same, whether they be inadequate wages, a lack of appropriate clothing, footwear or safety equipment or a lack of medical care should they fall ill or become injured.
Choosing a Trekking Company
Before you book your trek ask the travel company what their porter policy is (see below for questions to ask). Contact organisations which offer ethical trekking agreements to which trekking companies can sign up. Finally, if you see porter mistreatment then complain loud and long on the spot and once home complain to your travel company. Send a report of the incident to IPPG with as much detail as possible.
Questions to ask trekking companies:
1. Does the company follow IPPG’s five guidelines on porter safety (detailed on their website)?
2. What is their policy on equipment and health care for porters?
3. What do they do to ensure the trekking staff is properly trained to look after porters’ welfare?
4. What is their policy on training and monitoring porter care in the country you intend to visit?
5. Do they ask about treatment of porters in their post trek feedback questionnaire to clients?
So is the answer to avoid using porters on your trek? Of course not discover here. If you act responsibly and choose an ethical company, employing porters is a very good way to assist some of the world’s poorest communities and create jobs for meagre subsistence farmers to supplement their income so the more porters you can employ the better!
Despite their hard graft, you’ll discover that the grace and enthusiasm of your porters will add a wonderful dimension to your trek.