Press Releases

    29 August 2002


    NEW YORK, 28 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to launch the International Year of Mountains (2002) in Lesotho, delivered in Maseru today:

    I am very pleased and honoured to launch the International Year of Mountains in this beautiful mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

    The United Nations proclaimed this year as the International Year of Mountains in order to increase awareness of mountain ecosystems, to defend the cultural heritage of mountain communities, and to promote the conservation and sustainable development of mountain regions.

    Too often, mountains are perceived as remote from the day-to-day concerns of humankind. But, as the people of Lesotho know well, nothing could be further from the truth. Mountains are home to communities and to important cultural traditions. They shelter vast reserves of biodiversity. They provide vital resources such as water and wood, contributing to the livelihoods of a significant portion of the world's population.

    Mountain environments face increasing risks. Satellite imagery shows significant loss of mountain forests in the last 10 to 20 years. Mountain fauna and flora are endangered by habitat loss and climate change. River systems and watersheds are being degraded and polluted.

    This environmental degradation has a high cost. It often means increasing poverty and food insecurity for mountain people, who already face immense physical barriers -- rugged terrain, poor communications systems and inadequate roads.

    As resources become scarce, conflicts over their use can arise. Many men, women and entire families have no choice but to migrate to lowland cities. And so, mountain communities disintegrate, and indigenous traditions and knowledge disappear.

    There is an urgent need to adopt sustainable ways of managing natural resources and ecosystems -- because not only our planet’s health, but also the security of our food supplies, depend on it.

    I hope the World Summit on Sustainable Development -- which has just opened in Johannesburg -- will help us to do that. If we make progress in protecting the earth’s biodiversity and ecosystems -- as well as in the development of sustainable agriculture, water supplies and sanitation, energy, and health services -- we will offer all human beings a chance of achieving prosperity that will not only last their own lifetime, but can be enjoyed by their children and grandchildren too.

    I applaud the efforts of the Government of Lesotho to make use of the environment in a sustainable way, and to harness water in the mountains to generate income for poverty reduction -- as you have done so effectively in your cooperation with South Africa. The United Nations and its agencies will continue to help you in your efforts.

    My friends, we all have a stake in ensuring that the world's mountain regions continue to provide their riches for many generations to come. This is a mountain we can and must scale together.

    * *** *