'Mountains under Pressure: climate, hunger, migration' is focus of 15th annual International Mountain Day

By Jennifer Fabiano, AccuWeather staff writer
December 11, 2017, 10:20:56 AM EST

The 2017 theme of International Mountain Day, “Mountains under Pressure: climate, hunger, migration,” invites people from around the world to focus on environmental factors, such as climate change, that lead to mountain community issues such as hunger and migration.

On Dec. 11, 2002, the Mountain Partnership declared Dec. 11 as the annual International Mountain Day, a day that celebrates and brings attention to the importance of mountains, according to Thomas Hofer, the Mountain Partnership coordinator.

“The Mountain Partnership is a United Nations voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to improving the lives of mountain peoples and protecting mountain environments around the world,” according to the Mountain Partnership website.

Mountain Day

Mountains cover 27% of the world and encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes from arid hot desert and tropical forest to polar icecaps. Rémi Bonnet seen in Charmey, Switzerland on July 12, 2017. (Red Bull Content Pool via AP Images/Damien Rosso)

The celebration occurs in many formats all over the world, including seminars, mountain hikes, training courses and film festivals.

“It is not just a day for mountain communities, but for the whole world,” Hofer said.

In addition to celebration of mountains and mountain communities, a theme is set each year in order to bring attention to the most prominent topic regarding mountains. Each theme revolves around the main focus of International Mountain Day: sustainable mountain development.

“Sustainable development means to really work in a specific area or ecosystem in a way that resources are being used so that future generations can also have access in the same way,” Hofer said.

Mountain Day 2017

Mountains cover 27% of the world and encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes from arid hot desert and tropical forest to polar icecaps. Eva Samkova seen in Passo dello Stelvio, Italy on Oct. 11, 2016. (Red Bull Content Pool via AP Images/Jan Kasl)

As the theme suggests, the 2017 International Mountain Day will focus on the various pressures that mountains are facing in today’s world. Mountain ecosystems are not resilient, leaving them very vulnerable to stresses such as climate change, according to Hofer.

Mountains are early indicators of climate change, according to the International Mountain Day website. Rising global temperatures are causing mountain glaciers to melt at unprecedented rates, which impact the freshwater supplies for mountain communities and for millions of people downstream.

According to Hofer, 60 to 80 percent of the world’s freshwater resources originate in mountain areas.

“To ensure that this service continues to be provided by mountains, obviously there is a need to pay particular attention to the management of these resources,” Hofer said.

Part of the conference will focus on watershed management. A presentation of a recent study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will educate members about the management of catchment areas of mountain water. The study presents lessons learned from about 10 watershed projects around the world that focus on safe-guarding water resources.

Mountain infographic

Climate pressures on mountain ecosystems lead to major concerns for mountain communities including vulnerability to food shortages and extreme poverty.

Globally, almost 1 billion people live in mountain areas, according to Hofer.

A study by the FAO shows that the vulnerability for food insecurity for mountains is much higher than the global average. Currently about 39 percent of the mountain population in developing countries is vulnerable to food insecurity.

“That means that people more and more move away from the mountain area because of the difficult livelihood conditions and economic reasons,” Hofer said.

The vulnerability mountain communities face causes many members to migrate from the mountain areas. Out-migration from these mountain communities results in loss of “provision of ecosystem services, preservation of culture and agrobiodiversity,” according to the website.

The Mountain Partnership hopes that the discussion of how climate, hunger and migration are affecting mountains will “ensure that sustainable mountain development is integrated into the 2030 Agenda and in the implementation of the Paris Agreement," according to the website.

Though the Mountain Partnership establishes this suggested theme, countries and communities are invited to create their own theme that best fits their specific issues or needs.

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The Mountain Partnership Global Meeting, held every four years at the FAO headquarters in Rome, will align with International Mountain Day this year.

On the first day of the conference, along with celebrations across the world, the Mountain Partnership will launch the Framework for Action for the next four years. The Framework for Action establishes policies that support concrete action for sustainable mountain development, according to Hofer.

“We want to raise awareness about mountains and the need to pay more attention and invest more in mountains,” Hofer said. “Not just invest money, but invest more attention, more political voice and more access to services.”

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