Mountain ecosystems are the source of fresh water for more than half of humanity and harbour a rich and unique variety of plant and animal life, yet each day crippling poverty among mountain people and armed conflicts played out on mountain terrain put these irreplaceable global assets at risk.
"Mountain areas are home to most of the armed conflicts in the world as well as many of the world's poorest and least food-secure populations," said Dr. Diouf. "As we begin commemorating the International Year of Mountains, conflict may be the single greatest obstacle to achieving our goals. Without peace, we cannot reduce poverty. Without peace, we cannot ensure secure food supplies. Without peace, we cannot even consider sustainable development."
The United Nations declared 2002 as the International Year of Mountains to increase awareness of the global importance of mountain ecosystems and the challenges faced by mountain people and to stimulate long-term on-the-ground action. This unprecedented opportunity to address mountain issues and celebrate mountain culture evolved from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, where mountains became the singular focus of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development.
Mountains are crucial to all life on earth. They are home to one-tenth of the world's population and sources of biodiversity, minerals and forests. They are also an essential source of freshwater. More than 3 billion people rely on mountains for water to grow food, to produce electricity, to sustain industries and, most importantly, to drink.
Mountains are exceedingly rich in resources, but they are equally fragile - far more fragile than most lowland environments. Throughout the world, many mountain ecosystems are being degraded by unsustainable forestry and agriculture practices, often a result of poverty, urbanization and growing population. Scientists also believe that mountains are barometers of global warming. Mountain glaciers, the source of water for most of the world's river systems, are melting at an unprecedented rate.
Many mountain people are among the poorest, hungriest citizens of the world. They face massive barriers to development - rugged terrain, poor communications and transportation systems, political marginalization and limited access to education and capital. However, the related barriers of armed conflict and hunger may today pose the most signifcant obstacles. In 1999, 23 of the 27 major armed conflicts in the world were being fought in mountain regions. And many undernourished people in today's world live in mountain regions.
At the global launch, Dr. Diouf called on countries and UN agencies to make peace in mountains a priority in the International Year of Mountains by addressing the root causes of conflict.
"Seek out your unique role as peacemaker," said Dr. Diouf. "Once you establish that role, your role in sustainable development and conservation of mountains will also become clear."
The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization is the lead United Nations agency for the International Year of Mountains. FAO's partners include several UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, Mountain Forum, mountain people's organizations and more than 40 national committees representating countries around the world, with many more countries preparing to join in. FAO's priority is to support the creation and ongoing efforts of national committees dedicated to the International Year of Mountains.
National commemoration is important because countries have the power to develop laws and policies to ensure the sustainable development of mountain areas that are developed with the full participation of mountain people. Mountain people are the stewards of mountain ecosystems and the ones who live most intimately with the consequences of their destruction. Their knowledge, perspectives and participation are vital to the success of any efforts to protect mountain environments and alleviate poverty.
For more information, consult:
INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF MOUNTAINS COORDINATION UNIT
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Tel: (+39) 06-570-55737 (Rome, Italy)
Cell: (+39) 349-237-5749
Senior Forestry Officer
Tel: (+39) 06-570-53275 (Rome, Italy)
Cell: (+39) 349-237-5588
FAO Regional Information Officer, North America
(+1) 202-653-011 (Washington, D.C.)
Cell: (+1) 703-862-6075
FAO Media Relations Branch
Tel: (+39) 06-570-53635 (Rome, Italy)
Official International Year of Mountains Web site
FAO Web site
Additional information on the Internmational year of the Mountains: Download pdf file