IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
Recently there was a gathering of people ("academics,
bureaucrats, and a sprinkling of activists" in the words
of Himal reporter Kanak Dixit) interested in stopping the
accelerating impoverishment of mountain environments and
their peoples. They met at Lima in Peru and talked for a
week. And then they wrote a Sustainable Development
(CSD) and did more talking. And they hope to get a lot
more people talking about mountains, and soon.
A combination of opposites, talk and mountains,
especially when it is that strange language - UN talk.
What is the point?
Talk at the UN is not the same thing as action and the
phrase "OK lets cut the talk and get down to action"
suggests that talk and action are mutually exclusive.
Nevertheless talking to governments at the CSD about the
number of "Prioritised action recommendations", which is
what mountain activists have just done, is a considerable
achievement and will lead to action. Bear with me whilst
I briefly trace the process because I cannot see a better
way of doing what needs to be done. The objective is to
smoke out some new money for development and to change
attitudes in the world at large so that people start to
care for mountain environments and those who live in
The process started in 1991 with a drive to get mountain
environments on the Earth Summit agenda at the Rio
conference. It started with two ex-bureaucrats (although
Kanak Dixit distinguishes between bureaucrats and
activists, it is possible to have a hybrid - an activist
bureaucrat) who found in Maurice Strong, the Secretary
General of the Rio conference, a most willing activist
accomplice. By marshaling the relevant academics, a fat
resource book called "The State of the World's Mountains"
was published, governments going to the Rio conference
were lobbied and then, with a lot of help from the Swiss
government, a chapter on "Sustainable Mountain
Development" (Chapter 13) was voted into Agenda 21
itself. So mountains joined the other great causes like
wetlands, rain forest, desertification, biodiversity,
rural development, deforestation, climate change and all
too many others on the world's approved list of
environmental good causes for the coming decades.
But the original group, which called itself Mountain
Agenda, could not sustain its activists and Chapter 13
looked like becoming an orphan. Worse than that it could
have become a corpse. It had a unique handicap in that
it was a cause for concern created outside the UN and no
intergovernmental organisation of any kind had adopted
it. One body, the IUCN, did have a mountain man but he
was allowed to life his eyes to the hills, officially,
for only ten per cent of his hectic year. He would have
taken the years to have edited "The State of the World's
Mountains". So, even there, mountains are marginal.
Fortunately the detailed wording of the Rio texts
insisted that progress on each chapter of Agenda 21 be
monitored by a focal point in the UN family which must
then report to the Secretary General of the UN. At least
two cheers then, for the UN's bureaucratic obsessions.
For Chapter 13 the Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO) was chosen as focal point. Before Rio, FAO had
declared that it regarded mountain environmental problems
as no different from those of the plains. But after Rio
attitudes changed. FAO called a meeting including NGOs
to gather the facts and duly reported to the Secretary
General of the UN. To the surprise of many of us it
appears that all sorts of UN bodies had not only
contributed to Chapter 13, but had also had a long
standing interest in mountains, and indeed, had been
specially concerned with them since who knows when.
The spectacle of a newly painted bandwagon beginning to
roll always provokes turbulent emotions in the breasts of
the pioneers who have gathered bits of timber and second
hand nails to bring the original device into existence.
Often they discover that they had quite misunderstood
the previous apathy which never really existed, or that
they had simply failed to address the right people, or
just got the timing wrong. Cynicism must be stamped on
and one must learn to say - "how wonderful to discover...
I never knew that you too were so concerned... so good to
find friends one never knew one had.....", and so on.
Above all one must find happiness in seeing the first
trundle of a bandwagon big enough for a multitude of
people to clamber abroad. One must even learn to live
with attempts to push the pioneers off the wagon they
must themselves conceived.
The meeting in Lima, Peru, hosted by the International
Potato Centre concluded in early March, and gave a still
hesitant bandwagon a push down the road. It was billed
as the NGO Global Consultation on the Mountain Agenda and
was organised by the Woodlands Mountain Institute of West
Virginia, USA, which appeared to be the only NGO with a
strong enough establishment to raise the funds and do the
job. It had a new chief executive formerly of the
environment department of the World Bank who, being a
woman, thus had recent experience of being marginalised
by virtue of gender. Dr Jane Pratt also had a lot of
courage and got the Lima meeting on the road in under
five months in spite of fund-raising setbacks.
The Lima talk was boiled down to those "prioritized
action recommendations" which, in UN speak, mean ways of
making happen what lies behind the generalities of
Chapter 13. By a combination of determined maneuvers and
the help of friendly governments the mountain NGO
spokesperson, Dr Manjari Mehta, was able to address
delegates during the meeting of the CSD just prior to the
high level sessions when many Ministers were present
among the 182 country delegations.
So the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, having
listened to the talk of mountains, their peoples and
their problems, and seeing the depth of commitment to
action all over the world, put down on paper its own
The words are mercifully short. Some salient phrases
give the flavour:- "the Commission recognises that ....
mountain ecosystems are complex, fragile, unique in
geomorphology, and react sensitively to global climate
change. That with increased accessibility into mountain
areas.... resource degradation, ... economic and
political marginalisation of mountain communities has
taken place. Recognises the importance of mountains as
the predominant and most dependable source of fresh water
presently used by humanity, ...the vital protection
function of a stable forest cover... the protection of
indigenous people's interests.... should be an integral
part of sustainable development."
When it comes to raising real money and changing the way
developments are allowed to impact on the mountain
ecosystems, there were other useful words:- "expanding
the network of protected mountain areas....promoting
local and NGO's participation in the management of these
areas.....recoganises the need to take a new look at the
overall flow and full cost pricing of resources and
services to and from mountain areas." and "...calls upon
Governments and the international community to take
action at all levels with the objective of combating
poverty in mountain areas, diversifying mountain
economies, protecting the environment and food security
of local communities..."
So that was how grass roots talk about what is happening
to the mountains came to be transformed into the words of
governments. It is now up to people interested in
sustaining the world's heritage of mountain ecosystems to
use those words to power coherent action.