The city of Interlaken is hosting the World Mountain Symposium 2001 to mark the upcoming United Nations International Year of the Mountain scheduled for next year. Around 150 economic, development and political specialists are attending the event.
The five-day conference organised in cooperation with the University of Bern is focus on the sustainable development of mountainous regions. Key issues under discussion are subsidies, decentralisation and sustainability.
"Switzerland's competence in this field is internationally recognised," said Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Development Agency which is participating in the debates. "This does not mean we want to act as teachers, but rather exchange knowledge."
Sustainable development includes the defence and promotion of mountainous regions. It also stresses socio-cultural ties within alpine communities and their economic welfare.
Fust said he is convinced mountain populations can relate well to each other.
"They have many points in common, starting with language," Fust said. "They probably also resemble each other in their way of thinking, which is very different from that of lowland populations or desert regions."
Vital drinking water
Mountains take up one-fourth of the globe's surface, and are inhabited by 10 per cent of the world's population. They are also a vital source of drinking water.
"Mountain regions are essential, because they provide humanity with half of its drinking water," Fust explained. "This is a treasure we must preserve."
Switzerland, which took part in the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Brazil, fought to have the sustainable development of alpine ecosystems inscribed in the UN's Agenda 21. This agenda comprises the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, as well as the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests.
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