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Press Release 00/42


Rome, 19 July 2000.-- The degradation of mountain environments poses a serious threat not only to the world's water resources but also to biodiversity, food security and cultural diversity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today as intense preparations are currently under way for the International Year of Mountains to be celebrated in 2002.

The International Year of Mountains promotes the conservation and sustainable development of mountain regions, thereby ensuring the well-being of both mountain inhabitants, whose livelihoods, opportunities and overall well-being are at stake, and lowland communities.

Mountains are fragile ecosystems which are globally important as water towers of the earth, repositories of rich biological diversity, popular destinations for recreation and tourism and areas of important cultural heritage. Mountains provide a direct life-support base for about one-tenth of humankind. They also provide 30 to 60 per cent of downstream fresh water in humid areas and up to 70-95 per cent in semi-arid to arid environments, according to FAO.

Rapid growing awareness of the importance of mountain areas in recent years prompted the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the International Year of Mountains in November 1998. FAO was invited to act as the lead agency, in collaboration with governments, UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, other UN agencies and NGOs. The Inter-agency Group on Mountains, established in 1994 to provide guidance and support to FAO in its role as task manager of Chapter 13 (Sustainable Mountain Development) of Agenda 21, also acts as an advisory group.

A significant number of initiatives and events are planned by FAO, other UN agencies, NGOs and governments to increase awareness, promote action and provide key information on mountain-related topics. An internet site has also been established and a logo for awareness-raising and promotion of the International Year of Mountains is available on that site (see below).

But the real challenge lies in launching activities that aim at long term and sustained efforts to improve the environment and to promote peace in mountain areas where border conflicts still occur. "Activities should enhance all aspects of mountain development and apply participatory approaches involving various stakeholders. They should also defend and promote the social and cultural identity of mountain communities", according to FAO.

"The conservation and sustainable development of mountain areas requires political commitment at international and local levels. The International Year of Mountains will raise more awareness of the social and economic benefits of investing in mountain areas," said Tage Michaelsen, Chief of FAO's Forest Conservation, Research and Education Service.

In the past, governments have tended to concentrate services in lowland areas which have been the principal centres of economic production. Poverty-stricken mountain regions were often neglected and the rights of mountain communities barely recognized.

"More investment in mountains and recognition of the rights of mountain communities are essential for a sustainable development of mountain regions. Efforts should focus not only on conservation of mountain ecosystems but also on infrastructures, hospitals, schools and other social issues," said Michaelsen.

When mountain communities have a sense of at least partial ownership or control over local natural resources they are more inclined to help protect them. For example, in Nepal about 50 years ago, local communities had no or little incentive to protect State-owned mountain forests. A policy shift in the last two decades devolved management and user rights to local communities which are currently making profitable investments in forests and benefiting from wood and non-wood forest products, according to FAO.

Specially adapted to a wide range of altitudes and climates, mountain ecosystems have produced a wealth of plant and animal species. For example, potatoes, maize, tomatoes, peanuts and cotton originated in the mountains of Latin America. The International Year of Mountains will also focus on the importance of mountains as key-reservoirs for plant genetic resources, thus offering tremendous potential for agriculture and medicine, according to FAO.

Protecting the mountains also means protecting and promoting mountain quality products that are sometimes in great request: for example, the typical cheese varieties produced in the Alps.

A series of events are being planned for the International Year of Mountains at global, regional and national levels. However, the observance carried out at national level is expected to have the most significant and long-lasting impact, according to FAO.


For further information on the International Year of Mountains, please consult the website: which includes the logo for awareness-raising or promotional use, or call FAO media relations branch, tel. 0039.06.57052232.

Audio-clip in English

2002: ten years after Rio, what has been achieved?

Professor Bruno Messerli is an Eminent Swiss scientist retired from the Bern University. As the President of the World Geographic Union, he is involved in the 'Year of Mountains' preparations. Recently, he visited FAO Headquarters, in Rome. This is what he had to say in an interview by Liliane Kambirigi (FAO Information Division):

You can listen to or download this interview (2min57sec) :
Duration: 2min57sec

In Realaudio (459 Kb- Instant play)

In mp3 (Broadcast quality , to be downloaded,1376Kb):

Instructions for listening to audio files:

- To play the RealAudio files requires the RealPlayer software, see (RealPlayer 7 Basic is free)

- To play the mp3 files requires any mp3 player software: Winamp,
Windows Media player, Quicktime 4.0;RealplayerG2, etc...

All free on the Web:;;

If you can't download, please call for a feed: Eric Deleu (radio unit)
tel: 039-06-5705 6863 / 3223

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