logo: International Year of Mountains

Mountains are crucial to life. In addition to hosting more biodiversity than any other eco-region on earth, mountains provide most of the world's freshwater and are often called,nature's water towers. More than 3 billion people rely on mountain watersheds for their supplies of fresh water. Mountains are a source of key resources such as minerals, forest products and agricultural products and of recreation. As a major ecosystem representing the complex and interrelated ecology of our planet, mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem.

Mountains have become a magnet for tourism, which is the most rapidly growing industry in the world. Tourism is vital to the conservation and development of mountain regions. Mountain tourism accounts for 15 - 20% of worldwide tourism, or US$ 70 - 90 billion per year. By the year 2010, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) predicts that there will be one billion international tourists and more than US$1,500 billion generated in revenue. As tourism increases in mountain regions around the world, environmental, social and economic impacts can also be expected to increase. Mountain tourism plays a significant role in national economies, relative to mountain economies' generally small contributions. The impacts of tourism on mountain ecosystems and biological resources are of great concern, however, both at the local and global scales, because of the high degree of biodiversity and environmental sensitivity of mountain areas. Immense altitude changes and associated climatic conditions result in great variations in temperatures, precipitation, soils and vegetation, breeding a rich diversity of ecosystems.

Cultural identities and diversity in mountain regions are also under threat by the economic, social and environmental forces associated with mountain tourism. The knowledge and skills refined over generations by mountain peoples lose value in the face of the latest developments of sports, infrastructure and the demand for luxurious hotels. A loss of cultural identity leads to an increase of social problems of crime, drugs, and the degradation of community values and religious practices that once held the society together. Due to isolation and limited access, many people living in mountain areas lack sufficient skills and the resources to invest in and benefit from tourism.

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