I believe we’ve all heard of this idiom: Making a mountain out of a molehill – greatly exaggerating the severity of the situation. In many aspects, the idea of adverse magnification of an issue is surrounding us on a daily basis. With the advent of technology and the use of social media, we are forced to face the bombardment of minor issues that might be muddled with major issues that we should be concerned about. International Mountain Day is coming up in December 11th and I wonder if we’re making a mountain of a molehill about the importance of preserving mountains around the world.
The International Mountain Day has its roots in 1992, with the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development put a milestone in the history of mountain development. The swelling attention to the importance of mountains led the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. The United Nations General Assembly designated 11 December as “International Mountain Day”. As of 2003, it has been observed every year to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain peoples and environments around the world.
Mountains cover approximately one-quarter of the world’s surface and are home to 12% of the human population. Mountains are characterized by massive global diversity – from tropical rain forests to permanent ice and snow, from climates with more than 12 m of annual precipitation to high-altitude deserts, and from sea level to almost 9 000 m in altitude. They are the water towers of the world – providing freshwater to at least half of the world’s people. However, mountains are also high-risk environments; avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and glacial lake outburst floods threaten life in mountain regions and surrounding areas. Mountains play an important role in influencing global and regional climates and weather conditions.
Mountain people are among the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged. They frequently face political, social and economic marginalization and lack access to such basic services as health and education. Moreover, current global challenges such as climate change, economic developments and population growth exacerbate the hardships they face. Sustainable approaches to development are therefore particularly important in mountain regions. Mountain people have learned over the years how to live with the threat of natural hazards and have developed well-adapted and risk-resilient land-use systems. However, there is mounting evidence that many mountain regions have become increasingly disaster-prone over the past few decades.
What is currently being done to protect the mountains? Under the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations, there are a few approaches to look at the sustainability of the mountains:
Policy Level: It is necessary to strengthen existing policies and establish new and innovative national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms based specifically mountain-related issues. The governments should increase attention to disaster risk management in mountain areas through the development of measures, approaches and policies for prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation of natural disasters and of public service. Transport and communication infrastructure need to be implemented, as well. Mountain people’s active engagement in decision making processes with a specific focus on women’s role is of paramount importance, since it ensures that indigenous cultures, traditions and knowledge are fully recognized and included in development policy and planning in mountain regions and that access and agreed-to rights to land and natural resources are respected.
Economic Level: The levels of investment and funding for sustainable development in mountain regions at the global, regional, and national and community levels should be increased, through better integration of the private sector. Payments for environmental services (PES) will potentially better the economic situation of mountain communities, representing an innovative way of financing sustainable development projects. All this must be backed up by a supportive and enabling environment for the promotion of high-quality products and services from mountain areas as a means of improving livelihoods and protecting mountain environments, and facilitate mountain areas’ access to national and international markets.
International Level: Promoting initiatives for transboundary cooperation, with particular attention to upstream–downstream linkages and support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their efforts towards sustainable mountain development, through bilateral, multilateral and South–South cooperation will bring tangible results. Moreover, supporting the collaborative efforts of the Mountain Partnership, encouraging the active involvement of its members and increase efforts to include and mainstream mountain issues in international discussions and negotiations, particularly regarding the three main relevant United Nations Conventions (UNCBD with its Programme of Work on Mountain Biological Diversity, UNCCD and UNFCCC), UN-Water and the World Water Forum will result in a great gathering of pro-active intervention.
The theme for this year is “Promoting mountain products for better livelihoods”. Globalization offers opportunities for mountain producers to market high quality mountain products, such as coffee, cocoa, honey, herbs, spices and handicrafts at the national, regional and international levels. Mountain agriculture might not be able to compete with the prices and volumes of lowland production, however, it can concentrate on high value, high quality products to boost local economies. Tourism-related services such as skiing, climbing, cultural heritage or nature trails that allow visitors to discover unique biodiversity are also some of the offerings provided by mountains and mountain communities. If the mountains are managed sustainably, tourism can provide an opportunity for development in mountain regions. International Mountain Day 2015 provides an occasion to highlight how mountain communities are protecting biodiversity by producing a large variety of typical products and providing crucial goods and services throughout the world.
In a nutshell, understanding on how mountains behaves and the lives that formed and sustained in mountainous regions is rather crucial to preserve and protect the mountains as it affects people, nature, the environment and even the economy. I think you will agree with me when I say it’s not making a mountain out of a molehill when we are talking about the awareness of mountain sustainability rather we seem to be making a molehill out of a mountain and we might have to start getting ourselves seriously involved.
Written by: Clarrie Ng
Clarrie Si Qian Ng is pursuing her Master's degree in Asia Pacific Policy Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in deciphering the use of social media in political communication.