Beyond the mountain summit

Posted: 7 November 2002

Author: Martin Price

The Global Mountain Summit ended in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 1 November, 2002, with agreement by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to host a secretariat to carry forward the International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions.

This partnership was agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. FAO will work in collaboration with other UN agencies, particularly UNEP, to carry forward the work started in the International Year of the Mountains.

Bishkek was an appropriate place for the Mountain Summit as it was here that an international conference in 1996 proposed an International Year of Mountains, and because the Government of Kyrgyzstan was the primary promoter of the concept in the United Nations. Over 600 delegates from 60 countries attended the Summit, predominantly from Central and South Asia, western Europe, and international organisations.

The Summit was only the latest of a plethora of meetings at local to global levels, on almost every theme relating to mountains. These included mountain women, children, water, mining, war, forests, biodiversity, arts. They have brought together many people who would otherwise never have met, leading to increased understanding both of issues and of others' viewpoints. Around the world, diverse media have featured mountain issues, raising the awareness of an uncountable number of people.

National committees

The importance of mountain issues has also been recognised in 74 countries by the establishment of national IYM committees. In most cases, these have been led by one government agency, but they have all involved other agencies and, in most cases, representatives from NGOs and the private sector.

Many of these structures may disappear, yet all have provided opportunities for dialogue; some will continue, leading to new laws and policies which support sustainable development in mountain areas. These will need to be based on sound information and knowledge, and many scientific initiatives have been boosted by the IYM.

Already existing, but accelerated by IYM, has been the Mountain Research Initiative, bringing together three global research programmes. UNEP has played an increasingly prominent role during the Year, most evidently through its publication of Mountain Watch, the first systematic global assessment of mountain ecosystems (see: Summit warns of human threats to mountain regions).

As everyone recognises, mountain people are often disproportionately disadvantaged. Research done by FAO and published at Bishkek shows that about 720 million people live in mountain areas; 625 million in developing countries. More than half of them are vulnerable to food shortages and chronic malnutrition.

Lack of security in mountain areas also results from the fact that so many wars occur within them, fuelled sometimes by local inequities, but also by global political and economic forces. Such points are made in the Bishkek Mountain Platform, the final document of the Summit, and in background papers.

It is clear that increasing investments need to be made in mountain areas, recognising not only such relative disadvantages, but also that mountain people, and the ecosystems they manage, provide vital services for a significant proportion of humankind.

New funding

This is reflected in the fact that the Global Environment Facility has committed over $620 million and leveraged additional funding of about $1.4 billion in support of 107 mountain-related projects in 64 countries. At the Bishkek Summit the World Bank also pointed out that it has put $1.3 billion into projects in mountain areas, focussing on integrated ecosystems management, partnerships, and innovative funding mechanisms such as payment for environmental services, debt for nature swaps, and environmental trust funds.

Bishkek was an important milestone towards sustainable development in mountain areas. It brought together many key players and resulted in agreements and partnerships that should last into the foreseeable future.

One critical outcome of the IYM has been the recognition that mountains provide so many vital services and resources to the inhabitants of Earth, particularly water. In many ways, it is fortunate that 2003 will be the International Year of Freshwater - it is likely to provide added momentum to taking forward many of the partnerships which were further elaborated in Bishkek.

Dr Martin Price is Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College, within Scotland's UHI Millenium Institute, creating the University of the Highlands and Islands.