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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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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