By Felix Donkor –
Mountains play a significant role in shaping global and regional climates and weather conditions. Moreover, they form about one-quarter of the earth’s land surface and are home to 720 million people around the world. Globally, people living downstream also benefit considerably from mountains. However, mountains are vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, land degradation, deforestation and natural disasters with implications for the livelihoods and wellbeing of mountain people. A core issue is to explore novel and sustainable opportunities that engender enhanced wellbeing to both highland and lowland communities whilst conserving fragile mountain ecosystems.
These were some of the topical issues that informed the fourth World Mountain Forum (WMF 2018) which took place from 23-26 October 2018, in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic. Over 300 participants from government, civil society organisations, academia inter alia graced the event under the overarching theme, ‘Mountains in a Changing World: Strengthening Partnerships and Pathways Towards a Thriving Mountain Future.’
The World Mountain Forum as jointly organised by the University of Central Asia (UCA) and the government of the Kyrgyz Republic, under the auspices of the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Prior to the event, the Youth Mountain Forum created a platform for students and young professionals interested in climate change and sustainable mountain development to cooperate and share ideas.
Syed Sohail Hussain Naqvi (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Central Asia), gave the opening address and highlighted that mountain areas are a key research focus for the university, not only in producing new knowledge but also in how solutions proffered impact the lives of mountain people. His message was echoed by Murat Mukambetov (Deputy Head, Government Administration, Kyrgyz Republic), who expatiated the efforts of the Kyrgyz Republic in promoting SMD in the region. He also underscored the need to produce more mountain-focused mechanisms and institutions. From Africa, Mary Goretti Kitutu Kimono (Minister of Water Resources, Uganda), talked on the diverse ways in which mountains in Africa help in achieving energy security, poverty alleviation, and improved yields for food security. They host some of the world’s most complex agro-cultural gene pools and traditional management practices. She stressed however, that the intercourse of population pressure and climate change endanger African mountain environments and populations.
Mountains are also of socio-cultural and political importance as they encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes, a rich variety of species and habitat types, and distinct human communities. Thus, Danielle Meuwly Monteleone (Deputy Head, Mission of Switzerland to the Kyrgyz Republic), demonstrated the influence of mountains in shaping identities in both Switzerland and the Kyrgyz Republic. This was a very interesting twist to the deliberations as mountains such as the Swiss Alps were thrown into the spotlight in the context of their substantial historical, geopolitical and economic importance.
The voices of the youth from mountain communities was also given spotlight. Alidovar Sodatsairov, Youth Delegate, shared the final proceedings of the Youth Mountain Forum, emphasising the challenges and opportunities for mountain development, touching on the importance of information sharing across the diversity of stakeholders in co-developing solutions; the essence of integrating indigenous and traditional knowledge in global development programs targeted at mountains, and the import of climate resilience for vulnerable groups, vis-à-vis their age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
In closing the deliberations, participants were of the view that development projects have to realign their objectives to collaborate more closely with mountain communities. Moreover, it is crucial to co-develop policy strategies and robust interventions that effectively reinforce resilience of mountain socio-ecological systems.