The populations of the mountain areas of the world and their communal organizations share similar characteristics. Most of them are surrounded by ecosystems with vast biological diversity and other natural resources, but often, and paradoxically, they also share high levels of poverty and isolation from the rest of society. The case of Peru is no exception. Poverty, and cases of extreme poverty, indeed, are sometimes covered by absolute macro-economic figures. This is the social and economic context in which the sustainable development of mountain ecosystem should be addressed.
The Government of Peru has recently encouraged various international activities that have permitted a useful exchange of informed views from international experts, government representatives and the scientific community regarding the various dimensions and the impact of mountains and mountain ecosystems at a local and global level.
The Andean region and the mountain ecosystems in general are an important source of water, energy, biological diversity and traditional knowledge. But at the same time, these areas demonstrate extreme fragility to adverse processes, often caused by humans, such as climate change, deforestation and natural disasters. The consequences of these phenomena in the areas of loss of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, and quality and quantity of water for human consumption, are great.
Recent international studies have shown a gradual loss in the level of the Andean ice caps, a process that is linked to the patterns of climate change that affect the world. Hence the Andean peaks have become a monitor of the adverse affects of climate change and proof of the fact of this negative phenomenon, the effects of which have not yet been fully evaluated, and the origin of which is often in distant countries.
Located in the centre of the Andean mountain system, the Peruvian mountain areas harbour immense biological diversity which ranks among the most extensive in the world. Nonetheless, the maximum value of this diversity can only be gathered through the intellectual input of the ancestral and current knowledge of its population, which is not yet fully recognized, and which is an added value of historical and harmonic interaction with the environment. This has resulted in the immense contribution that Peruvian mountains have given and will continue to give, symbolized by the historical process of domestication of the potato to the food security of humankind.
High mountains, by their geographical nature, divide territories. In the case of Peru, both coastal and jungle areas are separated by the Andean mountain range, and have developed over recent centuries with their backs turned to the mountains, even though these mountains constitute the cities' main source of energy and food supplies. In the past, the fluid relationship between the mountains and nearby areas has been one of the elements that contributed to the greatness of the Andean culture. The recent history of Peru seeks to recover some elements from this past, taking into account the delicate task of acknowledging these areas of difficult access.
In addition, further evaluation of the particularities of the potential of mountain ecosystems for the development of non-destructive environmental practices is still necessary. Practices such as sustainable tourism and mining are both key activities to the Peruvian mountain areas and should be strengthened to preserve the Andes as centre of a magnificent culture and to ensure that the abundant resources are developed in a sustainable way.
The National Working Group on Mountain Ecosystems has celebrated two events, one of international character, and that was at the historic city of Cusco where the Cusco Declaration on the Sustainable Development of Mountain Ecosystems was approved last April. The objective of this national group is to bring sustainable development to the Peruvian mountain populations. This group is conducting a number of projects at present, and preparing a milestone project in mountains for the year 2002: the world meeting on mountain ecosystems - Mountains Toward 2020: Water, Life and Production. This event will take place in the city of Huaraz, located in the centre of the Andean system, between 5 and 7 June 2002.
Source: Extracted from the presentation by Alan Wagner, Ambassador of Peru to the United States and former Minister for Foreign Relations, on behalf of Diego Garcia-Sayan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the launch of the International Year of Mountains in New York, 11 December 2001.