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Today, 11 December, is International Mountain Day. This is an awareness creation opportunity to focus attention on the giants in our midst, the mountains of the world. What makes this year special is that it is the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Mountains, 2002.

Mountains are a critical part of our ecosystem – whether we live at sea level or up in the highlands, our lives are connected to the mountains, in more ways than we may be aware.

Mountains cover approximately a quarter of the earth’s surface. They are key for collecting freshwater, they support a rich diversity of fauna and flora (in climates ranging from tropical rain forests to permanent ice and snow), they impact on our weather and climatic conditions, and they are home to more than a tenth of the world’s population. Yet, as stated on the Food and Agriculture Alliance of the United Nationswebsite, “environmental degradation, the consequences of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.”

The Drakensberg mountain range between South Africa and Lesotho - home to many, source of ecotourism and important influence on the climate of the region.(© All Rights Reserved)

The Drakensberg mountain range between South Africa and Lesotho – home to many, source of ecotourism and important influence on the climate of the region.
(© All Rights Reserved)

International Mountain Day supports sustainable mountain development, promoting environmental sustainability of mountainous regions, and also mobilising resources to improve the livelihood of mountain communities. To this end, the theme for 2012 is ‘Celebrating Mountain Life’. People living in mountainous areas often face treacherous physical conditions – avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, eruptions, and floods. While they have adapted to the conditions, employing low-impact, risk-resilient land-use systems, they often remain politically and economically marginalised, lacking access to basic health and education services. Sustainable mountain development is key in improving the livelihood of the isolated communities living in the mountains. Achieving this requires a holistic, integrated approach taking into account water, biodiversity, tourism and infrastructure development.

While I am unsure what we as individuals can really do to contribute to this cause, at least a day like International Mountain Day reminds us of the importance of these splendid landforms, and should at least increase our appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the political, economical and environmental issues faced in sustainable mountain development.

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