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FAO Press Release 02/13

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Official International Year of Mountains

Rome, 15 February 2002 - Mountain dwellers are among the world's largest populations of undernourished and hungry, David Harcharik, Deputy Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said today.

As evidence of the growing crisis being played out on many of the world's highest landscapes, Mr Harcharik said 52 of the 81 countries receiving emergency assistance from the World Food Programme in the year 2000 were mountain countries.

Speaking at a special FAO launch of the International Year of Mountains in Rome, Mr Harcharik said that current estimates show there are more than 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world. By paying special attention to the plight of mountain people, he predicted the numbers of hungry and undernourished citizens in the world could be reduced substantially.

At the World Food Summit in 1996, representatives of 185 nations and the European Community pledged to work toward eradicating hunger. As an essential first step, they set a target of reducing the number of hungry people by half by 2015. Unfortunately, current data indicates that the number of undernourished in the world is falling at a rate of only 6 million per year - well below the 22 million per year needed to reach the World Food Summit target.

"If we can improve conditions in mountain communities, we will go a long way toward fulfilling this important goal," said Mr Harcharik.

One in ten, or about 600 million, people live in mountain areas. Outside the well-to-do mountain resorts and commuter towns in industrialized countries, the majority of mountain people are chronically undernourished.

The reasons for this harsh reality are complex, but most relate to issues of poverty and political marginalization. For example, policies and decisions concerning the management of mountain resources are often made from afar, leaving those who live in mountain communities with the least amount of influence and power.

In addition, mountain people face massive physical barriers, such as rugged terrain, poor communications systems and inadequate roads. But armed conflict is currently the greatest obstacle to improving conditions in mountain communities.

Most of the armed conflicts in the world today are in mountain areas. In 1999, 23 of the 27 major armed conflicts in the world were being fought in mountain regions.

"How can you reliably produce food in conditions of war?" Mr Harcharik asked. "How can you take steps to improve your life, to dream of a better future, when you don't know where your next meal is coming from - or if you will live to eat it?"

FAO is the lead United Nations agency for the International Year of Mountains. FAO's partners include several UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, the Mountain Forum, mountain people's organizations and more than 50 national committees representing countries around the world, with many more countries preparing to join in.

FAO's priority is to stimulate long-term, on-the-ground action as well as to support the creation and ongoing efforts of national committees dedicated to the International Year of Mountains.

Mountains are crucial to all life on earth. They are home to at least one-tenth of the world's population and sources of biodiversity, minerals and forests. They are also source of all the world's great rivers. More than 3 billion people rely on mountains for fresh water to grow food, to produce electricity, to sustain industries and, most importantly, to drink.

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. 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.

National observance of the International Year of Mountains is crucial because countries have the power to develop laws and policies to encourage the sustainable development of mountain areas,and to ensure that decision-making processes include 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 to alleviate hunger.

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