The Carpathian region of Europe, a vast area of forests, streams and mountains that is home to brown bears, wolves, bison, lynx, imperial eagles and other globally threatened birds, received further protection at a United Nations-backed conference today with the adoption of immediate steps to promote environment-friendly tourism and conservation there.
“The Carpathians of Central and Eastern Europe are among the world’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity and pristine landscapes,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner told the seven members of the Carpathian Convention meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. The treaty was developed with UNEP playing a key role.
“As such they hold huge potential for nature- and wildlife-based tourism. Today’s decisions recognize this potential and the importance of managing these natural and cultural assets sustainably,” he said.
The programme, adopted by the first conference for the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians that brings together the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine, sets up a network of protected areas and a tourist circuit.
Key threats to the area include growing unemployment and poverty, which have worsened since the transition from Communism began over a decade ago, as well as unsustainable development patterns, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution, deforestation, excessive hunting and habitat fragmentation.
A thematic travel itinerary will allow rural communities to ‘brand’ and promote themselves, and the ‘Via Carpati’ project creates a trans-national network of trails and mountain huts. Training programmes will expand the pool of professionals skilled in managing these and other aspects of environmentally sustainable tourism.
The meeting also urged completion of the Carpathian Environmental Outlook, a UNEP-led assessment that will feature maps, data and analyses of key themes. Early findings confirm that the ongoing loss of biological diversity in mountain and wetland ecosystems poses a serious threat to the region.
Other projects are being implemented with partners such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Central European Initiative, the Regional Environment Centre, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), and Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.
Spread over some 200,000 square kilometres, an area 10 per cent larger than the Alps, and home to between 16 million and 18 million people, the Carpathians shelter 45 per cent of Europe’s wolves outside of Russia, some 4,000 animals. Around 200 unique plants, found nowhere else in the world, are also a feature of the region.