Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Do you know why mountains matter?

Photo: 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) / Peter Haden Text (optional): Leo the Huaso lives in the Andes mountains of central Chile. A huaso is a Chilean countryman and skilled horseman. They are an important part of Chilean folkloric culture.

Mountains are crucial to life. Whether we live at sea level or the highest elevations, we are connected to mountains and affected by them in more ways than we can imagine. Mountains provide most of the world's freshwater, harbour a rich variety of plants and animals, and are home to one in ten people. Yet, each day, environmental degradation, the consequences of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.

International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands.

Mountains cover approximately one-quarter of the world’s surface and are home to 12% of the human population. Mountains are characterized by massive global diversity – from tropical rain forests to permanent ice and snow, from climates with more than 12 m of annual precipitation to high   altitude deserts, and from sea level to almost 9 000 m in altitude. They are the water towers of the world – providing freshwater to at least half of the world’s people. However, mountains are also high-risk environments; avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and glacial lake outburst floods threaten life in mountain regions and surrounding areas. Mountains play an important role in influencing global and regional climates and weather conditions.

Mountain people are among the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged. They frequently face political, social and economic marginalization and lack access to such basic services as health and education. Moreover, current global challenges such as climate change, economic developments and population growth exacerbate the hardships they face. Sustainable approaches to development are therefore particularly important in mountain regions. Over the generations, mountain people have learned how to live with the threat of natural hazards and have developed well-adapted and risk-resilient land-use systems. However, there is growing evidence that many mountain regions have become increasingly disaster-prone over the past few decades.

This year, the theme for the international day is "Mountains - Key to a Sustainable Future". The focus will be on celebrating how mountains are crucial in moving the world towards sustainable economic growth in the context of poverty eradication, and on drawing attention to their generally sustainable and low-emission production models.

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