UNITED Nations calls on member states and other organisations to mark a set of days, as well as weeks, years and decades, to help focus the world on the issues in which UN has an interest and commitment. United Nations General Assembly designated December 11 as International Mountain day in 2003. The General Assembly “encouraged the international community to organise events at all levels on that day to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.” Every year, the day is celebrated with a different theme relevant to sustainable mountain development. FAO is the mandated UN entity to lead observance of International Mountain Day.
Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA), in partnership with FAO, ICIMOD, UNDP, ILO and some other organisations, is going the celebrate the day for the first time in Bangladesh. The events of the day include rally, seminar, photographic exhibitions and special supplements in the national dailies and local dailies of three hill districts. The theme of International Mountain Day 2013 is “Mountains: Key to a Sustainable Future.”
The observance of the day strives to achieve a stronger engagement of all actors and the civil society with a view to mobilising resources to improve the livelihoods of mountain communities. It also envisages the linkages between rural and urban development with an eye to the implementation of a green economy in line with the Rio+20 Earth Summit. We also believe the observance of the day will strengthen the commitment and will too advance the cause of mountain agenda at all levels.
One quarter of the world’s surface is covered with mountains, where 12% people live. Mountains are characterised by vast global diversity — from tropical rain forests to snow-capped peaks. Mountains are the water towers of the world that provide fresh water to at least half of world’s population. Beside being a source of key resources, minerals, forest products, agricultural products and recreation; mountains are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem as a major ecosystem representing the complex and interrelated ecology of our planet, a storehouse of biological diversity and endangered species. Mountains are also high-risk environments; avalanche, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods threaten life in mountain regions and surrounding areas.
The United Nations Environment Progrmme (UNEP), founded in 1972, is an agency of the UN that coordinates UN environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. On mountains UNEP has this observation: “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 fresh water, harbour a rich variety of plants and animals, and are homes to one in ten people. Yet, each day, environmental degradation, the consequence of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.”
Studies show that mountain people are among the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged. They often face socio-economic and political marginalisation and lack access to basic services like education, health and other modern amenities. Their hardships are compounded by current global challenges, such as climate change, industrialisation, population growth etc. Sustainable approaches to development are therefore particularly important in mountain regions. Mountain people have learned, over the generations, how to live and cope with the threat of natural hazards and have developed well-adapted and risk-resilient land-use system. Just an example — many settlers from the plains die of land and mud slides in CHT during monsoon whereas such hazards do not occur in case of ethnic peoples who know how to build safe houses in hilly terrains.
Mountain agenda includes sustainable development and protection of mountain regions and the improvement of local livelihoods. Mountain specific legislation is needed to address the protection of ethnic minorities and the cultural heritage of mountain people, and to recognise community-based property rights. As many mountain ranges are transboundary, international cooperation is needed for sustainable mountain development. To achieve that objective it is essential to have the involvement of all concerned stakeholders and to raise awareness about mountain eco-system, their fragility and the ways of addressing them.
The importance of observing International Mountain Day lies in the fact that more than 50% of the world’s population depends on water sourced from mountains, which also provide high-quality natural products, rich agro-biodiversity, habitats for rare and endangered flora and fauna, and resource for tourism and recreation. However, climate and global change are having serious adverse impacts on mountain eco-system, particularly water and atmospheric circulation. So it has become an urgent need to raise awareness and promote policy actions to ensure the critical contribution of mountain ecosystem in meeting adaptation and sustainable development goals.
We believe the observance of the Day in Bangladesh will be able to trigger actions and create awareness among the people on issues relating to sustainable mountain development.
The writer is Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and Member, Board of Governors, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).