International cooperation focusing on the development needs of mountain regions continues to deepen, thanks to an innovative new partnership and the designation of 11 December as International Mountain Day.

This week FAO will be leading the world in the first-ever celebration of the Day, established by the UN General Assembly in recognition of the global importance of mountain ecosystems and as a mechanism for promoting sustained attention to the development needs of mountain communities.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf will lead observances at the Organization's Rome headquarters. He will be joined by various FAO partners, including Mr Franco Frattini, Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Enrico La Loggia, Italy's Minister of Regional Affairs.

During the celebrations, FAO will premiere a new educational exhibit on mountains. A screening of the documentary "Angle on Hunger" will also be given. The film was produced by FAO's International Year of Mountains Coordination Unit in cooperation with the BBC.

FAO has also developed key messages, communication tools, public service announcements and a series of information-rich briefing papers. These materials will be distributed to partners around the world for use during various national events celebrating the Day.

A new global partnership

"Mountains are the source of most of the world's freshwater and harbour some of the world's richest biodiversity," observes Douglas McGuire of FAO's Forestry Department, who coordinates the agency's work on mountains.

"Yet, each day, crippling poverty and armed conflict put these irreplaceable global assets at risk," he says. "The challenge now is to transform the momentum established last year during the International Year of Mountains into on-the-ground action."

A lot has already been accomplished, McGuire adds.

One milestone coming out of FAO's efforts to consolidate progress made during the International Year of Mountains was the creation in September 2002 of the International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions.

Launched by FAO together with the UN Environment Programme and the Government of Switzerland at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and enjoying the strong support of Italy, the Mountain Partnership now includes 40 countries, 15 intergovernmental organizations and 38 other players who aim to pool resources, share knowledge and coordinate efforts related to development and conservation in mountain areas.

The idea behind the Mountain Partnership is to establish clear commitments and benchmarks for mountain work, develop prioritized plans of action and enhance cooperation and coordination among its members on these issues.

"There's a lot to be gained when people put their heads together and pool resources," explains McGuire. "When you break the issues down into smaller issues, consider the expertise of those around the world who might work together to find and implement solutions, you can begin to chart out the way forward."

On-the-ground action

Another important outcome of the International Year of Mountains was the creation in 78 countries of national committees charged with coordinating activities related to the Year.

Now those committees are looking at ways to continue and deepen that work.

In June 2003 committee representatives met with FAO and other partner organizations at Chambéry, France, to explore the possible transition of national committees into more permanent institutions for concrete and lasting country-level action. They also debated means of promoting information exchange, networking and regional cooperation on mountain development. Options for actively involving the committees in the Mountain Partnership were also discussed at Chambéry.

For more on the challenges of sustainable development in mountain regions, the importance of mountain ecosystems and FAO's related work, read the articles and fact sheets featured in this Focus.

December 2003

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 53168