Working for peace in mountains
International Mountain Day 2004
10 December 2004, Rome -- "Mountains cover one quarter of the earth's land surface. They are home to 12 percent of the world's population. However, mountain people are affected by conflict disproportionately to their numbers and the land they occupy," Michel Savini, Assistant Director-General and Directeur de Cabinet of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
Mr Savini stated: "Conflicts can erupt anywhere, but it is an alarming fact that in the last 50 years conflicts in mountain regions have greatly increased. Violent conflicts are now almost twice as likely to occur at high altitude."
He was speaking on behalf of FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at a ceremony marking International Mountain Day at FAO headquarters in Rome.
FAO is tasked to lead observance of International Mountain Day, which this year has the theme: "Peace, key to sustainable mountain development". Launched by the General Assembly of the UN on the proposal of the Government of Italy, the Day aims to raise awareness about the global importance of mountains to life and to urge action to improve the lives of mountain people and protect their environments around the world.
Conflicts in mountain areas arise for a variety of reasons - economic, social and political - but poverty, unemployment, social inequality and isolation create the breeding ground for most of them. Whether these conflicts originate in the mountains or migrate to them for strategic reasons, the result is always devastation for mountain peoples who are often the poorest and hungriest in the world.
"Conflict destroys lives, environments and opportunities. It represents one of the most significant obstacles to mountain development", Savini said.
Dealing with the underlying causes of conflict is fundamental to preventing and mitigating it. FAO's technical departments are addressing the needs of mountain people through their work to improve watershed management, livestock production, women's development, food shortages, education and many other crucial issues, including programmes to rehabilitate communities affected by conflict.
Savini declared: "Peace in mountains is not an unattainable goal. Meeting this challenge requires everybody's commitment. We have now an important context in which to enhance cooperation: the Mountain Partnership, whose Secretariat is hosted by FAO. This international alliance that now numbers over 100 countries, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and the private sector, offers us a great opportunity to share expertise and knowledge and connect those who need assistance with those who can provide it so as to bring real and lasting change in the world's mountains."
In a keynote address, Professor S. Frederick Starr, President of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University, analysed what characterizes a mountain conflict and why, in the last decade alone, places so diverse and distant from one another have all witnessed major armed conflicts.
"Mountain regions have been the scene of many of the most stubborn conflicts in recent decades, including Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Peru and Nepal. It is important for the international community to recognize that this is no accident. It is equally important that its prescriptions be based on what mountain people themselves want and not on what experts think they want," Starr added.
The importance of listening to mountain people and making their voices heard was echoed by Catherine Cooke, President of The Mountain Institute, a US-based NGO working with mountain communities around the world. Ms Cooke said: "Real stories from mountain people around the globe link sustainability and security in compelling ways," and added: "Their voices can really move our world forward to a new global ethic and culture of peace."
The ceremony was also addressed by Alan Blackshaw, President of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), by Lothar Caviezel, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to FAO, and a Representative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Closing remarks from Sen. Enrico La Loggia, Italian Minister for Regional Affairs, were delivered by the Ministry's Chef de Cabinet, Mr Giuseppe Troccoli. He stressed the importance of peace for the development of mountain regions and underlined the commitment of the Italian Government in this regard. He then welcomed a series of initiatives conducted at international level that have resulted from a fruitful collaboration between FAO and the Italian Government. Amongst these is the recent Cusco Conference of the Mountain Partnership "an important step", said Minister La Loggia, "towards concrete action for the development of mountain regions".
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