Despite their imposing presence, mountains are very fragile environments. Mountain soil and vegetation are easily, and sometimes permanently, lost to erosion when natural resources are exploited in an unsustainable manner. The degradation of mountain ecosystems directly affects nearly half the world's population, including both highland and lowland communities.
To raise awareness and trigger action on issues relating to sustainable mountain development, the UN, on an idea by president Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, declared 2002 as the International Year of Mountains and invited FAO to act as the lead agency.
Undoubtedly the most important message of the International Year of Mountains was that mountains are crucial to the security of both highland and lowland people. Three billion people - more than half the world's population - rely on mountains for water for drinking, irrigation, industry and electricity. The IYM was an opportunity to raise awareness of the diverse values of mountain regions for society as a whole.
Although mountains are rich in natural and cultural resources, in economic terms they tend to be among the poorest places on earth. But mountains can also provide opportunities for redressing poverty and achieving sustainable development. Mountain environments are characterized by broad diversity, not only biophysical, but also social, economic and cultural.
Mountains are as vital as the oceans and as essential to human well-being. All people - whether dwelling at sea level or in the highest altitudes - depend on mountains for life. We are all mountain people. This awareness is the essential foundation of long-term, effective action.
From the success of the International Year of Mountains in 2002, the UN General Assembly designated 11 December, from 2003 onwards, as 'International Mountain Day'.
Statement by FAO Director General Jacques
Diouf on the official launch of IYM,
A report with photos on the launch of the IYM by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
All the International Years proclaimed by the General Assembly.
Papua New Guinea