Why our #MountainsMatter


Safeguarding our protectors and playgrounds

Mountains provide 60-80 percent of the world's freshwater.
©FAO/Elina Popova

In some countries, mountains are considered deities. In others, mountains are peaks to climb. In others still, mountains, like volcanoes, are spirits that can be angered. In countries around the world though, mountains provide life-sustaining water, energy and food for over half the world’s population.

Because of their altitude, slope and orientation to the sun, mountain ecosystems are easily disrupted by climate variations: native plants and animals are quickly losing their habitats and are struggling to survive in ever diminishing areas, and mountain glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates. These changes in mountain glaciers have an impact on water resources in many parts of the world.  

Mountains are also being threatened by land degradation, overexploitation and natural disasters, with potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world. But it does not have to be this way. Mountain communities possess a wealth of traditional knowledge and experience to manage and enhance the resilience of fragile mountain ecosystems.

Mountains are home to 13 percent of the world’s population.
Left: ©FAO/Wayne Matthews; Right: ©FAO/Edson Vandeira

Indigenous and traditional mountain farmers, for example, have designed their agricultural systems in a way to protect the soil from erosion, conserve water resources and reduce the risks posed by natural disasters. They use these skills and knowledge to protect mountain ecosystems because for them, mountains are home. Yet, #MountainsMatter to all of us. Here are some facts about why:

1. Mountains not only provide direct sustenance to and enhance the well-being of 915 million mountain people around the world, but also indirectly benefit billions more living downstream.

2. Mountains are home to 13 percent of the world’s population. Over 90 percent of the world’s mountain dwellers live in developing countries, and one in three mountain people in developing countries is food insecure.

3. Mountains provide 60-80 percent of the world's freshwater. Some of the world's largest cities, including Melbourne, Nairobi, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo depend on mountains for freshwater.

4. Mountain communities produce an abundance of high-value and high-quality foods and products such as coffee, cocoa, honey, herbs, spices and handicrafts that improve livelihoods and boost local economies.

6 of the 20 plants that supply most of the world's food originated in mountain areas.
©FAO/Sergey Kozmin

5. Mountain tourism accounts for 15–20 percent of the global tourism industry. They attract tourists for a wide-range of activities, including skiing, climbing, hiking and exploring.

6. Mountains play a key role in providing renewable energy, such as hydropower, solar power, wind power and biogas, for downstream cities and remote mountain communities. Hydropower provides around one-fifth of all electricity worldwide, and some countries rely almost exclusively on mountain regions for hydropower generation.

7. Six of the 20 plant species that supply most of the world's food originated in mountain areas. These valuable plants are maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, quinoa, tomatoes and apples. It is difficult to imagine a nutritious diet without at least one of these foods.

8. Mountains hold cultural as well as natural significance. Recognizing this, UNESCO has designated many mountains World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves (areas designated for finding solutions between sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity). In fact, almost 60 percent of all Biosphere Reserves contain mountain ecosystems.

Celebrate the mountains!

Every year on 11 December, the world celebrates International Mountain Day. Help us commemorate this day by organizing a special activity – hike on a mountain near you or choose a book about Everest, for example, for your next book club. Share your photos on your social channels and spread the word about why #MountainsMatter to you!


Learn more:

15. Life on land