International Mountains Day

Yesterday was the International Mountains Day. December 11 was designated as International Mountains Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003 which encouraged the international community to organize events at all levels on that day to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development. FAO is the UN organisation mandated to lead the observance of International Mountain Day.

International Mountain Day has its roots in 1992 when the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 or 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 increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. The first international day was celebrated for the first time the following year, in 2003.

Mountains cover 27% of the earth’s surface and are home to 15% of the world´s population or 1.1 billion people, hosting about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. They provide fresh water for everyday life to half of humanity and their conservation is a key factor for sustainable development and is part of Goal 15 of the SDGs. More than half of humanity relies on mountain freshwater for everyday life and six of the 20 most important food crops originate in the mountains. Unfortunately, mountains are under threat from climate change and overexploitation. As the global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s poorest — face even greater struggles to survive. The rising temperatures also mean that mountain glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, affecting freshwater supplies downstream for millions of people. This problem affects us all. We must reduce our carbon footprint and take care of these natural treasures.

Women move mountains is the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day. Women play a key role in environmental protection and social and economic development in mountain areas. They are often the primary managers of mountain resources, guardians of biodiversity, keepers of traditional knowledge, custodians of local culture and experts in traditional medicine. Increasing climate variability, coupled with a lack of investment in mountain agriculture and rural development, has often pushed men to migrate elsewhere in search of alternative livelihoods. Women have therefore taken on many tasks formerly done by men, yet mountain women are often invisible due to a lack of decision-making power and unequal access to resources. As farmers, market sellers, businesswomen, artisans, entrepreneurs and community leaders, mountain women and girls, in particular in rural areas, have the potential to be major agents of change. When rural women have access to resources, services and opportunities, they become a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty and are active in the development of mountain economies. To trigger real change towards sustainable development, it is important to engage in gender transformative change. International Mountain Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the need to empower mountain women so they can participate more effectively in decision-making processes and have more control over productive resources. By sharing excellence, opportunities and capacity development in mountains, the Day can promote gender equality and therefore contribute to improving social justice, livelihoods and resilience.

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