Press Release 00/42
FAO ANNOUNCES INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF MOUNTAINS IN 2002
THE UN AGENCY WARNS AGAINST DEGRADATION OF MOUNTAIN ENVIRONMENTS AND ADVOCATES
RIGHTS OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES
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
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
"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
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
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) :
In Realaudio (459 Kb- Instant
In mp3 (Broadcast quality , to be
Instructions for listening to audio files:
- To play the RealAudio files requires the RealPlayer software,
http://www.real.com. (RealPlayer 7 Basic
- 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