In Chernobyl-affected areas, untapped tourism potential helps boost local entrepreneurship.
The Słauharadski district in Belarus was one of the areas most affected by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. After the catastrophe, most inhabitants of the district were resettled, and population is still sparse today. But the district’s “Blue Krynica”, a famed water spring, offers strong potential for eco-tourism development.
The spring is a popular touristic destination for visitors and pilgrims from all over Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. It is one of five springs in Belarus that are protected as part of the national nature and spiritual heritage.
These days, the spring is welcoming visitors through accessible and nature-friendly infrastructure but, until recently, the growing pressure of numerous and unchanneled visitors posed a real threat to the pristine waters of “Blue Krynica”.
“The initial idea was to preserve the spring. Up to 100,000 people visit the site annually,” says Vitaly Varabey, Head of “Vozrozhdenie-Agro”, the Local Fund for Rural Development.
The Fund’s work to conserve and develop the site started five years ago with support from UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus, and funding from the European Union and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme.
Rows of craft stalls for artisans, beekeepers, cheesemakers and farmers were built around the site to encourage small and medium-sized businesses and the creation of new jobs in the area.
Now visitors can not only collect the spring’s water which, according to believers has healing powers, but also taste local cheeses and honey or buy an original souvenir crafted by the local community.
“Attracting and implementing projects in the Chernobyl-affected territories is really important, because these efforts give energy to development in all areas, including tourism, environment and social entrepreneurship,” Vitaly says.
The initiative’s activities go beyond infrastructural improvements and aim at strengthening the management capacity of the territory through educational programmes for the Reserve’s staff.
The Słauharad Nature Reserve is a newcomer in nature conservation and the people working there welcome new knowledge to develop, adopt and implement innovative conservation practices. The site is also an important knowledge and best practices hub for local schools.
According to Vitaly, there are 124 species of birds in the Nature Reserve only: “Schools have developed training programs and created environmental classes. Green education is important to show children that we have a unique territory and to show what kind of animals, birds, plants are living there.”
The Local Fund for Rural Development “Vozrozhdenie-Agro” and the Słauharad Nature Reserve have plans to continue developing the “Blue Krynica” source site and the Nature Reserve, to help attract investments and create a comfortable and friendly environment for visitors, while expanding opportunities for local entrepreneurship.
"I feel that I am doing the right thing," concludes Vitaly.