Mountains are the world's water reservoirs; they are favourable areas for agricultural use, provide resources for mining and tourism, and contain a high variability of both natural and cultural diversity within small area units.
Key problems of mountainous areas in developing and transition countries are degradation of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, demographic pressure, lack of appropriate transport systems, weak social infrastructure, lack of local governance, conflict over access to resources such as water particularly in lowland areas, and problematic economic integration of the highlands. Furthermore, problems specific to rain-forest fringes, such as slash-and-burn clearing under population pressure, are often found in steepland areas which can be defined as mountainous.
High pastures in Kyrgyzstan (Photo: Karina Liechti)
The world's mountains are highly sensitive indicators of climate change, and their forests constitute an important but highly vulnerable CO2 pool. Switzerland as a mountainous country attributes high value to mountains and highland-lowland interactions and has developed a leading role and comparative advantage for working on this syndrome context, particularly in the UNCED process and follow-up through Agenda 21, Chapter 13, on sustainable mountain development.