International Mountain Day 2022 is being celebrated across the world today - 11 December - with the theme ‘Women move mountains’. The day is significant for Manipur as 90 per cent of its area are hills. This day, which the UN has marked as International Mountain Day since 2002, provides an opportunity to recognise the rights of the mountain women and promotes their social justice, gender equality, livelihood and resilience.
Women play an inextricable role in environmental protection, social and economic development in mountain regions. They are the primary managers of mountain resources, artisans, guardians of biodiversity, keepers of traditional knowledge, custodians of local culture and experts in traditional medicine.
Increasing climate variability, coupled with poor economy and resources becoming scarce, means men have no choice but to migrate to lowland cities. Women are often left to manage families but with little capacity and knowledge. Mountain women have, therefore, taken the throes of all family burdens.
Almost half the human population depends on mountains for water, food and energy. Mountain farming has been a model for centuries as an inherently ‘green’ and low-carbon footprint.
Of the 20 plant species that supply 80 per cent of the world's food, six are diversified and originated in mountains: maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, tomatoes and apples.
Mountains are early indicators of climate change and as the global climate continues to warm, mountain people - some of the world’s hungriest and poorest - face greater struggles to survive.
Climate-induced disasters, combined with political, economic and social marginalization, increase the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food shortages and extreme poverty. Currently, about 329 million mountain people are estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity and most of the mountain farming production is for family consumption, playing a key role in ensuring household food security.
Covering around 27 per cent of the earth's land surface and supporting 22 per cent of the world’s populations, mountains are the water towers of the planet providing 60-80 per cent of the world's freshwater. Freshwater from mountains is fundamental for global food security, used for irrigation in many lowland regions.
Mountains are ubiquitous and 90 per cent of the world’s mountain dwellers live in developing countries, where a vast majority lives below the poverty line and one out of three faces the threat of food insecurity.
Mountains not only provide sustenance and well-being to 915 million global people but also indirectly benefit billions living downstream.
Mountains are places of tourism and cultural trails. Mountain tourism accounts for about 18 per cent of the global tourism industry. Mountain populations have unique and valuable local knowledge, tradition and cultural practices that can contribute to effective land management strategies and climate adaptation. Yet, mountains are starker under threat from climate change, deforestation, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters, affecting both the mountain communities and the rest of the world.
Mountains have a key role in providing renewable energy, especially through hydro power, solar power, wind power and biogas. Hydro power currently provides around a fifth of all electricity worldwide and some countries rely 100 per cent of their requirements.
Mountains are one of the oldest nature’s pristine structures, stolid and regal they stand against the sky, of such a size that they can catch entire countryside’s in their shadow, and turn back the ravages of storms against their unflinching sides. They are the source of recreation and resource, with stones of green dressed slopes to enthusiasts, and to those brave enough to delve into their stony sides.
Traditional medicines and many forms of handicrafts that spring up from the minds of mountain people that were kept untouched for centuries towered the edifices into their legacies. Mountains are necessary for the health and well-being of flora and fauna that call them their home.
The world’s mountains encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes, a wide variety of ecosystems, a great diversity of species and distinctive human communities.
Mountains support about one quarter of the world's terrestrial biodiversity with nearly half of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots”. Genetic diversity is higher in mountain regions. When mountain communities disintegrate, the entire cultures and languages disappear.
Mountains have acted as refuges from environmental changes or competing species, and they often represent sites of in situ speciation. Due to global warming, species that are endemic in these areas can become “trapped” and will disappear as their habitat is reduced.
Mountain ranges are the primary depository for air pollutants. Changes in the precipitation patterns and rising temperatures result in reducing the water holding capacity of the mountain range. Habitat degradation caused by massive deforestation results in soil erosion, landslides, flooding and food insecurity. With this change in habitat, rare species of plants and animals can face extinction.
This day can be celebrated in cavalcade ways to discover the hidden beauties, hiking along the trails and enjoying the mountain nature in all its glory and untouched wilderness. However, mountains are hugely vulnerable to the natural and anthropogenic threats which degrade mountain ecosystems and services and the livelihoods of billions of peoples. Therefore with the coming of this day, let’s join hands to save the mountains and hills for human survival.
(The views expressed are personal)