SWITZERLAND, 16 June 2002 -- A
disproportionately high number of the world's
hungriest and chronically malnourished people reside in mountain
regions, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), said today.
In a statement delivered on his behalf by Jacques
Eckebil, FAO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable
Development, at the International Conference on Sustainable
Agriculture and Rural Development in Mountains, held in
Adelboden, Switzerland (16-20 June 2002), Dr Diouf said
malnutrition and food insecurity in mountain regions contribute
to increased disease and disability and the displacement of
hundreds of thousands of people who flee drought and famine.
Mountains are crucial to life. In addition
to hosting more biodiversity than any other eco-region on earth,
mountains provide most of the world's freshwater. More than
3 billion people rely on mountains for water to drink and to
grow food, produce electricity and sustain industries. However,
policies and decisions concerning the management of those
resources are made often from afar, leaving those who live in
mountain communities with the least amount of influence and
There are 815 million chronically
undernourished people in the world, according to FAO. Although
mountain people represent about 12 percent of the world's
population, mountain communities may carry a much larger portion
of the burden.
Millions of people in the
Andes, Himalaya and other large mountain areas of the world
suffer from goitre and cretinism, because glaciation, melting
snow and heavy rainfall regularly leach fragile mountain soils
of their iodine content. At the same time, in many mountain
communities, Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of
preventable blindness in children, while raising the risk of
disease and death from severe infections.
According to FAO, the high levels of malnutrition and
hunger in mountain areas have much to do with the
inaccessibility, complexity and fragility of mountain
environments, and the extent to which mountain people are often
In the Ethiopian highlands as
well as in the Upper Rwaba watershed of Burundi, for example,
inequities of land distribution coupled with population growth
have increased poverty and food insecurity. In the Peruvian
Andes, two of every three households don't possess enough
arable land to grow the foods required to meet their nutritional
Every day, mountain people face
immense physical barriers -- rugged terrain, poor communications
systems and inadequate roads.
State and Government attending the World Food Summit: five years
later held in Rome from 10 to 13 June this year, renewed their
global commitment to reduce the number of hungry in the world no
later than 2015. The Summit's Declaration recognised in
particular the extent of poverty in the mountain zones and
emphasised the vital role of mountain zones and their potential
for sustainable agriculture and rural development in order to
achieve food security. The need to build partnerships between
developing countries in this regard was stressed.
The United Nations declared 2002 the International
Year of Mountains to increase awareness of the global importance
of mountain ecosystems and the challenges faced by mountain
people. The conference in Adelboden is one of a series of major
global events scheduled for the Year.
opportunity to address mountain issues 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.
It is expected that the Adelboden
conference will help set the stage for policies and laws meant
to protect mountain ecosystems and to create the conditions in
which mountain people can thrive. This Adelboden declaration
will be presented at the World Summit on Sustainable
Developmentto be held in Johannesburg at the end of August this
year, as well as at the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit to be
held in Kyrgyzstan in October.
FAO is the
lead United Nations agency for the International Year of
Mountains. FAO's partners include other United Nations
agencies, non-governmental organizations, Mountain Forum,
mountain people's organizations and more than 67 national
committees representing countries around the world, with many
more countries preparing to join. FAO's priority is to
stimulate long-term, on-the-ground action by supporting the
creation and ongoing efforts of national committees dedicated to
the International Year of Mountains.