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Swiss launch mountain initiative at Earth summit

Worth saving - a rainbow over the 4161 metre-high Bisshorn, in the Swiss Alps Keystone Archive

Switzerland's foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has welcomed a Swiss initiative to better protect the world's mountainous regions.

This content was published on September 2, 2002 - 20:06

The mountain partnership project was launched on Monday on the sidelines of the Earth summit in Johannesburg.

The aim of the initiative - which coincides with the United Nations International Year of the Mountains - is to create an informal alliance of Alpine countries, private sector and non-governmental organisations which share an interest in the concept of sustainable development in the mountains.

"This partnership programme will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of mountain regions, both ecologically, economically and socially," Deiss told swissinfo.

"Maybe the most difficult challenge in the mountains is to ensure the survival of mountain communities," he added.

Deiss said he hoped Switzerland would take a leading role in the future development of the partnership.

"We are of course a mountain country in the middle of the Alps, and we have experience of working on projects in mountain regions," he said.

The Swiss foreign minister also used the launch to call on other regions of the world to join the partnership initiative.

"We want to have an exchange of experience and perhaps also develop common programmes."

Building bridges

"The fact is that mountain eco-systems are very fragile," explained Jean-François Giovannini, a member of the Swiss delegation in Johannesburg with special responsibility for mountains.

"And what we are trying to do here in Johannesburg is get many more people on board the project," he added.

The world's mountainous regions - which account for approximately a quarter of the earth's surface - are estimated to be home to around one tenth of the world's total population, while half of mankind's freshwater supply originates in the mountains.

The initiative, says Giovannini, will not operate as a "bureaucratic organisation" but will seek instead to foster ties between individual partners looking to work together to tackle issues such as the melting of glaciers and the protection of mountain communities,

"We have a great deal of support in Latin America, from Mexico to Chile and Argentina, as well as in central Asia, in the Himalayas and the Alps," said Giovannini.

Uniting mountain regions

Fifty-three countries are officially designated "mountainous", meaning that mountains occupy more than half of their land area.

Switzerland hopes to bring as many of these as possible on board the initiative, as well as build on support already received from groups such as the Swiss-based environmental organisation, WWF, and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The next step in the implementation of the partnership programme will be to establish a liaison office to facilitate contact between individual countries and organisations within the partnership.

"Nobody is going to tell anybody what they have to do, because each partner will be responsible for its own actions," Giovannini said.

No decision has yet been taken on where a liaison office would be established, but three cities - Kathmandu, Rome and Geneva - have all been mooted as possible locations.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh, Johannesburg

In brief

Switzerland is keen to establish an informal alliance of Alpine countries, private sector and non-governmental organisations which share an interest in the concept of sustainable development in the mountains.

The mountain partnership initiative was officially launched by the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, on the sidelines of the Earth Summit.

The world's mountainous regions - which account for approximately a quarter of the earth's surface - are estimated to be home to around one tenth of the world's total population, while half of mankind's freshwater supply originates in the mountains.

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