International Mountain Day 2009

Mountain villages are at risk from natural disasters.
Mountain villages are at risk from natural disasters. Source: Flickr by

In order to improve the welfare of the indigenous peoples of mountainous regions the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has initiated an annual International Mountain Day. This year the theme is Disaster Risk Management in Mountains.

Mountains are hazardous places. Many mountain communities live under the threat of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, landslides and floods.

José Antonio Prado, Director, Forest Management Division, FAO.

The main reasons that people live in these dangerous mountain communities are cultural ties and poverty. The risks to these people can be reduced through sustainable agricultural, pasture and forestry practices. Local and national strategies also need to be put in place to help prevent loss of life.

It is very likely that heavy precipitation will become more frequent and likely that future storms will become more intense.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios.

This year International Mountain Day coincides with the United Nations Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, which is why Disaster Risk Management in Mountains was chosen as this years theme.

The risk of natural disasters occurring is not just confined to the rural mountain environment. City slums are often built up the sides of mountains are particularly vulnerable due to the large numbers of people living in them. Rural mountain communities have a particular disadvantage since it is difficult for advanced warning to be given and also for emergency services and relief aid to reach remote areas. Men from mountainous regions often leave home to earn money in low-lying cities or abroad, leaving women, children and the elderly in the mountains. Since the women are not landowners they are not always eligible for emergency relief. They are often restricted in their social interactions and consequently do not receive risk management advice.

Half of the deaths caused by natural disasters occur in mountains and adjoining lands.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Disaster Risk Management in Mountains

Deforestation increases the risk of natural disasters. When there are no trees there is nothing to hold the soil together and landslips occur more readily. It also increases the amount of water run-off flooding land at the foot of the mountains. Trees also provide a barrier against avalanches. Increases in mountain populations of people and grazing of animals plus outside pressure from commercial logging companies increase the amount of deforestation that occurs. Other factors that increase risk from natural disasters are road construction, building of settlements on exposed slopes and poor terracing.

In developed countries, mountainside forests are planted to provide protection around cities and roads. It is often the tax payer who funds this type of project, however the cost of emergency relief and re-construction far out weighs the cost of preventative measures.

International Mountain Day 2009 - Disaster Risk Management in Mountains
International Mountain Day 2009 - Disaster Risk Management in Mountains
Payments for environmental or ecological services (PES) schemes can help to reduce the risk involved in natural disasters in mountain regions. For example, the FAO, through a project funded by The Netherlands, reduced the amount of damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in the Lempira Sur region of Honduras when compared with other nearby regions. The FAO project initiated the practice of growing sorghum, beans and maizebeans with trees distributed between them. Maximum soil cover was maintained at all times through mulching crop stubble. These soil conservation techniques helped to protect the agricultural infrastructure. The project also help to create diverse interest groups and committees. Through these, producers in Lempira Sur obtained crucial first-level warning and assistance during the emergency.

Through PES schemes, and by educating mountain people and governments about risk awareness, the FAO can help reduce the number of casualties in natural disasters and also help break mountain people out the cycle of poverty.

Each year International Mountain Day focuses on a key aspect of mountain life or the environment. The issues raised to date are outlined as follows:

Year Mountain Issue Focus
2004 Peace: key to sustainable mountain development
2005 Mountain Tourism: making it work for the poor
2006 Managing Mountain diversity for better lives
2007 Facing Change: climate change in mountain areas
2008 Food Security in Mountains


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