A brief introduction to mountains

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					                                                                                  A very brief introduction to mountains
                                                                                                  Aubertin and Ginzburg

                         A Very Brief Introduction To Mountains
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Catherine Aubertin and Oren Ginzburg

As we prepare to exchange practical experiences and lessons learnt, it might be interesting to look, on
a broader level, at what our work is part of.

Mountains in the world
Mountains are getting more and more attention in the world. Chapter 13 of Agenda 21, a document
ratified by the United Nations Rio Conference in 1992, deals with the management of fragile
ecosystems and with sustainable mountain development. Mountains are seen as an important source of
diversity and biodiversity, but susceptible to accelerated degradation. In 2002 the FAO will be in
charge of organising the International Year of the Mountain.

Some facts about mountains:
•     Mountains represent 25% of land above sea level.
•     Mountains contain 50% of the world's natural resources (in particular water and wood).
•     Mountains are home to 10% of the global population.
•     Mountains represent one third of the world's protected areas.
•     Mountains are the scene of 26 wars or conflicts out of 33 in the world (data from 1995).

How we see mountains
Mountains are often defined in opposition to the lowlands and the "development" of the mountains is
often done for the benefit of the lowlands: hydroelectric dams, wood exploitation, roads, biodiversity
reserves etc.
Too often, the perception of mountain people, still today, varies from them being backward
populations, sometimes even dangerous, to people who need our support. These populations are also
an easy target, and are often accused of being the cause of various problems. For example slash and
burn techniques and their consequences on the environment, are a cause of much concern. At the same
time, very little attention is paid to illegal logging, and its consequences on the environment.
How we view mountainous people and mountains themselves, decides what kind of intervention we
try to carry out:
•     For some indigenous people, mountains are sacred or holy places belonging to the Gods.
•     If you see the mountain as a series of watersheds, then you will look at erosion or hydroelectric
•     You can look at mountains as the home of biodiversity, or of unique cultures that need to be
•     There are people who simply see mountains as their home.

    Researcher, IRD Laos
    Consultant, workshop organiser

                 EC workshop on sustainable rural development in the Southeast Asian mountainous region
                                             Hanoi, 28-30 November 2000
                                                                               A very brief introduction to mountains
                                                                                               Aubertin and Ginzburg

The developed world would like to preserve mountains. The poorer local populations would like to
take advantage of their resources in order to develop.
With each definition comes a different type of intervention, a different set of knowledge.
As we are starting this meeting, we could ask ourselves what are the different visions carried by
people working in development? What kind of mountain does your project see when it is looking at its
Maybe we can just keep this question in the back of our minds.

The mountainous environment in which we are working was sustainable before the outside world
entered it massively. When we talk about sustainable development for these regions, we are looking at
a development that offers alternatives to their traditional sustainability. Our objective here is to
exchange views on what these alternatives could be, and how they are best identified.

              EC workshop on sustainable rural development in the Southeast Asian mountainous region
                                          Hanoi, 28-30 November 2000

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