Mountain areas face growing risks from conflicts, environmental harm, UN warns

Mountain areas face growing risks from conflicts, environmental harm, UN warns

Mountain ecosystems face increasing risks as conflicts and environmental damage are harming irreplaceable resources, senior United Nations officials warned today.

In a message marking the global launch of 2002 as the International Year of Mountains, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "satellite imagery shows significant loss of mountain forests in the last 10 to 20 years." The UN proclaimed the Year in order to increase awareness of mountain ecosystems, to defend the cultural heritage of mountain communities and to promote the conservation and sustainable development of mountain regions, he said.

"Everyone has a stake in ensuring that the world's mountain regions continue to provide their riches for many generations to come; this is a challenge the world's peoples can and must scale together," he stressed.

Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), noted that nearly all of the world's current conflicts - 23 of the 27 existing wars - were being fought in mountainous regions. He stressed the importance of bringing peace to those areas in order to ensure food security for impoverished and hungry people all over the world.

"Conflict may be the single greatest obstacle to achieving our goals," Dr. Diouf told a UN news conference in New York. "Without peace, we cannot ensure secure food supplies. Without peace, we cannot even consider sustainable development."

Mountain ecosystems - the source of one-half of the planet's fresh water - were home to rich and diverse varieties of plant and animal life, Dr. Diouf pointed out. Each day, however, extreme poverty among the people living in mountainous areas and armed conflicts taking place in their shadows put those resources at risk.

The International Year of Mountains evolved from the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, which placed mountains on an equal footing with climate change, tropical deforestation and desertification as a key issue in the global debate on environment and development.