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11th of December is International Mountain Day

11th of December is International Mountain Day

For most people who go walking, trekking, climbing and mountaineering the mountains are a place to have fun and challenge yourself. For many people however, the mountains are their home, providing their livelihood and are their way of life. In order to improve the welfare of the indigenous peoples of mountainous regions the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has initiated an annual International Mountain Day. Since the first International Mountain Day in 2003, December 11th is used to highlight important issues that affect the mountain environment and those people who live there.

Each year International Mountain Day focuses on a key aspect of mountain life or the environment. The issues raised to date are outlined as follows:

Year Mountain Issue Focus
2004 Peace: key to sustainable mountain development
2005 Mountain Tourism: making it work for the poor
2006 Managing Mountain diversity for better lives
2007 Facing Change: climate change in mountain areas
2008 Food Security in Mountains
2009 Disaster Risk Management in Mountains
2010 Mountain minorities and indigenous peoples
2011 Mountain forests: roots to our future
2012 Celebrating Mountain Life
2013 Key to a Sustainable Future

Mountains cover a quarter of the world’s surface and are the source for all the world’s major rivers. Three billion people worldwide rely on the water from mountains for drinking, transport, irrigation and hydro-electric power. Mountains are home to 1 in 10 of the worlds people, as well as providing habitats for many species of plants and animals. The mountain ecosystem is very fragile and the affects of climate change are easily seen, with the retreating of glaciers being the most notable example.

Problems Faced by Mountain Peoples

Mountain Village

1 in 10 people live in mountainous regions. Source: Flickr by A. www.viajar24h.com

Through International Mountain Day, the United Nations hope to improve the quality of life for indigenous mountain people. The people who live in mountainous regions are often faced with poverty, hunger, the dangers of armed conflict and exploitative mining. More than 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world today live in mountain areas. Armed conflict destroys infrastructure and reduces the work force available to farm the land. Uncleared land mines make it impossible to farm the land and grow crops. A viscous cycle of poverty leads to further conflict. In order for mountain communities to live sustainably there must be peace.

Some of the main reasons for conflict to occur are competition for water, Ethnic diversity and ethnic clashes, mining and large construction projects, and farm land being used for growing drugs.

How Is International Mountain Day Helping?

By tackling different mountain issues each year, International Mountain Day can highlight the issues facing mountain environments and people. Discussion can bring wider awareness of mountain issues to people who do not live in the mountains as well as enabling indigenous mountain people to raise their own quality of life and look after their environment.

Transboundary Peace Parks in Mountain Regions

The longest mountain glacier in the world is the Siachen glacier located in the Karakoram between India and Pakistan. Extreme weather conditions have caused most of the 15,000 plus casualties who have died here in 20 years of conflict. The Saichen glacier supplies water to the Indus river which flows through both India and Pakistan. The water is contaminated due to military activity and dumping of waste in the glacier. The United Nations aims to set up Transboundary Peace Parks in areas like this to help stop conflict, bring peace and conserve the ecosystem.

Sustainable Tourism for Poverty Alleviation in Mountain Areas

Tourism has the capability to bring much needed revenue to poverty stricken mountain peoples. However, tourism can cause irreparable damage to the environment without bringing any benefit to the local people. The UN and FAO International Mountain Day 2005 served to highlight the need for sustainable tourism that directly benefits indigenous mountain people. Many of the people who read this blog will at some stage contemplate travelling abroad to enjoy hiking, trekking, mountaineering and climbing. In order to preserve the mountain environment that you are visiting find out what the tour operator does to help support the local community. The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) support projects that help benefit local mountain people and their environment. The UIAA can put you in touch with project organisers, maybe you can get involved?

Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of the present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing the opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled, while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.

World Tourism Organization (WTO)

High altitude, remote village.

High altitude, remote village. Source: Flickr by Hamed Saber

Managing Mountain Biodiversity

The focus of International Mountain Day 2006 was Managing Mountain Biodiversity. Due to the high altitude and remote nature of mountainous regions there exists a wide range of biodiversity within the flora, fauna and human culture of the mountains. Species and people have adapted to live in the extreme climate and support each other. However, these fragile ecosystems are under threat from new technologies and outside influences. In particular, intensive farming and exploitation of the mountain resources, e.g. water and minerals, can destroy the balance of the ecosystem and reduce the amount of biodiversity. Through setting up protected areas and Payment for Environmental Service Schemes (PES), the Food and Agriculture Organization intends to:

promote biodiversity management that will reduce poverty, improve livelihoods, and protect mountain environments for us all.

Climate Change in Mountain Areas

Mountain areas are effected by climate change much more than low lying areas. For the people, plants and animals in many mountainous areas climate change is already happening. Glaciers in the mountains are retreating and in some cases have disappeared. There are changes in the amount of rain and snowfall as well as avalanches, glacial lake outbursts and landslides.

The Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) has been set up to reliably monitor the climate so that researchers and policy makers can detect and manage global change.

For climbers and mountaineers the beauty and challenging nature of the mountain environment has additional meaning.

Food Security in Mountains

Farming in Mountainous Regions requires special skills and knowledge.

Farming in Mountainous Regions requires special skills and knowledge. Source: Flickr by Hamed Saber.

International Mountain Day 2008 focussed on the issue of food quality and supply. It has been found that mountain peoples often lack micronutrients from their diets. These are essential for leading an active and healthy life. Due to the often harsh conditions experienced in the mountains the lack of micronutrients in the diet makes life even harder. The farming skills and knowledge required to grow crops in mountainous regions are not as widespread as they once were. This has led to a decline in crop production and crop diversity in mountain regions.

Increased transportation and food costs worldwide mean that mountain peoples pay even more for food imported to mountainous regions.

Food security in mountains can be improved by:

  • promoting and expanding traditional mountain crops
  • improving breeding programmes of mountain-adapted livestock
  • safeguarding indigenous land use practices
  • improving market access
  • developing mountain-specific policies

Observing International Mountain Day

International Mountain Day is observed in many countries throughout the world, often through meetings and rallies attended by FAO and other officials as well as by representatives from mountain communities. These meetings enable people discuss problems faced in mountain environments and teach people skills that can improve their health and way of life. The media are often involved in publicising these events and in promoting International Mountain Day.

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