Why mountains matter

Creative Commons: Nicolò Di Giovanni

Mountains are the world’s “water  towers,” providing 60-80% of all freshwater resources for our planet. At  least half of the world’s population depends on mountain ecosystem  services to survive – not only water, but also food and clean energy.

However,  all available records indicate that glaciers in mountain ranges around  the world are retreating and disappearing due to climate change. At  least 600 glaciers have disappeared completely over past decades,  affecting water supplies relied on by billions living downstream. For  example, in Pakistan, water originating from the Hindu Kush Himalayas  provides 80% of irrigation for the Indus Basin, where food is grown for  180 million people. 

Major cities such as Rio de Janeiro, New York, Nairobi and Tokyo rely almost exclusively on freshwater from mountains.

On  the other hand, mountains attract around 20% of global tourism, host  nearly one-quarter of all terrestrial biodiversity, and are home to many  of the foods that come to our table, such as rice, potatoes, tomatoes  and barley. 

Yet, they are home to some of the poorest and hungriest people in the world. 

Of  the nearly 1 billion people living in mountain areas globally, the Food  and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that  nearly 329 million – one in every three mountain people – in developing  countries is vulnerable to food insecurity, with an increase of 30% over 12 years

The Mountain Partnership,  a United Nations alliance dedicated to improving the lives of mountain  peoples and protecting mountain environments, has issued a warning to  the international community: what is happening upstream due to climate  change will have disastrous impacts downstream.

Living far away  from centres of power and decision-making, mountain peoples, especially  in developing countries, are often marginalized in political, social and  economic terms. Mountain communities lack access to basic  infrastructure, education, credit and markets – and all of these hinder  their development. 

While men are often forced to migrate, the  women who remain have heavier workloads to carry, in addition to taking  care of the children and the elderly. At a community level, cultural  values and ancient traditions are lost.

Mountains are under pressure, and so are mountain communities. 

Climate  change is triggering disasters: avalanches, mud and rock slides are  tumbling downstream, stripping bare forests, flooding communities and  populations. Infectious diseases such as malaria will spread at higher  altitudes in the tropics as a result of rising temperatures and climate  change, affecting millions of people living in the mountains. 

Mountain  communities, however, have a wealth of knowledge and strategies  accumulated over generations on how to adapt to climate variability. But  they cannot do it alone. They need the awareness and support of the  rest of the world to help them adapt and thrive.

Time is running  out, and we must act together: public opinion must put pressure on  governments to take action now, to protect our mountains and protect our  future. We need specific investments, pro-mountain policies, and  incentives so that mountain peoples will not migrate elsewhere. We need  to raise the flag for all those without a voice.

Last updated July 2, 2018

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