High Stakes

The future for mountain societies

Posted: 5 June 2002

Author: Katrina Payne et al
The Panos Institute, London, 2002, £5.00

This report from the London-based Panos Institute argues that the most effective way to protect the world's mountains for future generations is to ensure mountain people have a stronger voice and role in the development of their regions. Experts in their own environments, they have a large part to play in tackling poverty and conserving resources - investing in people is the most effective way to protect the mountains for future generations, says the report.

Mountain regions are major suppliers of timber, fresh water, minerals and hydropower. They are also rich in biodiversity (genetic resources) as well as cultural diversity. Many mountain regions are also popular tourist destinations.

But although mountain environments are so resource-rich, 80 per cent of people who live there are impoverished. One of the main reasons for this is political marginalisation, a powerful force against which many mountain peoples have struggled. "The misery that is in [Mount] Elgon, is not because we don't have assets but because we don't have people to represent us in government," says a local teacher and trade unionist from Mount Elgon in Kenya.

Mountain regions are also at particular risk from armed conflict. According to the United Nations, 11 of the 18 regions identified as in desperate need of humanitarian assistance in 2002 are mountainous. Moreover, 23 of the world's 27 major conflicts in 1999 were in mountain areas.

Mountain regions are also in danger from other man-made problems. In recent decades, deforestation and industries such as mining, tourism and large-scale hydropower projects have damaged and degraded mountain environments around the world. The United Nations University has stated that the most threatened ranges are the European Alps and the Himalaya-Karakorum-HinduKush chain: the former from growing tourism, air pollution and the decline of traditional farming systems as a result of migration away from mountain villages; the latter from war, deforestation, drought, logging, overgrazing and migration.

But says the report, unsustainable development in mountain regions will have consequences far beyond these areas - it threatens the global ecosystem as a whole. Governments need to ensure that mountains are maintained for the people who live there, as well as the rest of the world who depend on their resources, argues the report. The challenge for the future is achieving a balance between local needs, and national and international demands for resources.

Throughout the Panos report case studies provide examples of a mountain-specific approach to development, informed by mountain people: for example, community conservation in Pakistan's Karakorum mountains; preparing for volcano eruptions in Indonesia; trophy hunting and tourism in Romania's Carpathian mountains; Information and Communication Technology in Malaysia; and small-scale hydropower development in the Himalaya and Papua New Guinea.

The report is available to download in pdf format from the Panos London website. Printed copies are available free to the media and to resource-poor non-governmental organisations. Copies otherwise are available for £5.00. Please email info at panos.org.uk to order.