Delegates from 60 countries have been meeting in Interlaken to prepare for the International Year of the Mountain in 2002.This content was published on October 4, 2001 - 19:20
Mountains account for a quarter of the Earth's total land area. They supply water to half the world's population and are often areas of outstanding natural beauty with a high degree of cultural diversity. Yet mountain communities are often disadvantaged - financially, socially and politically.
"One way of helping community development in mountainous regions is through subsidies," said Professor Hans Hurni from the Centre for Development and Environment at Bern University.
"Lots of services and functions are provided free by mountain communities to outsiders, be it through scenic landscapes for tourism or water delivered to lowland areas. Many countries are seriously considering how these services can be compensated to even out disparities in wealth."
Sense of pride
Another key issue is subsidiarity - the delegation of decision-making powers to as low a level as possible.
Hurni says his hope for the International Year of the Mountain is that mountain communities will develop a sense of pride in their assets. With the necessary investments in infrastructure and by improving accessibility, he believes mountainous areas will be able to integrate better into the economies of their regions.
As for mountain communities in Switzerland, Hurni says there has been an important change in attitude over the last 20 years.
"I think they are beginning to realise that things like biosphere reserves, like national parks, like World Heritage sites are very important assets."
Working groups at the conference considered their vision for mountain communities in 20 years time. Hurni accepts there will be change but thinks the picture will not be all that different from today.
"The globalisation process inevitably will take place in our villages. I think we can be integrated in a world economy and at the same time preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the Alps. "
by Vincent Landon
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