First African Mountains Regional Forum calls for mainstreaming of mountains in the development agenda

Friday, 24 October, 2014 - 09:05

The First African Mountains Regional Forum has started at Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge in Arusha, Tanzania. The three-day forum to take place from October 22-24 is to provide an opportunity for different sustainable mountain development stakeholders to enhance understanding of common conservation and development issues in the region.

The forum is organized by the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) and the Africa Mountain Partnership Champions Committee (AMPCC) in partnership with the East African Community (EAC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and other partners. Participants from African government institutions, academia, civil society, media and the private sector are in attendance.

Dr. Sam Kanyamibwa, the Executive Director of ARCOS, called the meeting “a celebration of the fragile mountain ecosystem.”

Hon. Magessa Mulogo, the Arusha Regional Commissioner in a statement delivered by the District Commissioner Arumeru District, Mr. Deus Munasa, said Tanzania is well endowed with mid-range mountains including Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, which attracts more than 35,000 climbers a year.

“Mt. Kilimanjaro is also a home to some 1.5 million people with nearly three quarters depending on its rich nature resources for water, food and medicinal herbs,” he said.

He added, “Despite all these positive attributes, projections from various studies suggest that ice on Mount Kilimanjaro is receding and that if it continues at the present rate, the majority of the remaining glaciers on the mountain could vanish with dire consequences for the neighbouring communities.”

Hon. Jesca Eriyo, Deputy Secretary General (Productive and Social Sectors), East African Community, said the East African region has renown trans-boundary mountainous ecosystems including Africa's highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro at 5,400m at the border of Tanzania and Kenya, the Mt. Elgon, which bestride Kenya and Uganda; the Virunga shared by Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amongst other national mountainous areas such as Mt. Kenya, Mt. Rwenzori in Uganda, Mt. Meru in Tanzania, Mt. Karisimbi in Rwanda.

These ecosystems support employment and income for the communities drawing their livelihoods from the ecosystems and their services,” she said.

Hon. Eriyo revealed that the EAC, through the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) is implementing a number of projects in the region's mountain ecosystems. One such project is the Mt. Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme (MERECP).

“The aim of the project is to promote sustainable use of shared natural resources benefiting livelihoods and mitigating and adapting to anticipated climate change impacts in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem by 2015,” said Hon.Eriyo. The MERECP is funded by the governments of the Royal Kingdom of Norway and Sweden.

Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 recognizes mountains as important sources of water, energy, minerals, forest and agricultural products and areas of recreation and “storehouses of biological diversity, home to endangered species and an essential part of the global ecosystem.”

Mountains cover 25 percent of the world's land surface, and directly support 12 percent of the world's population living within mountain regions, while about 40 per cent occupies watershed areas below. Mountains contribute an estimated 80% of downstream river flow, a main source of hydropower.

Mountain people, who are among the poorest in the world, are key to maintaining these mountain ecosystems and the need for action to alleviate poverty in mountain regions.

Through their watershed function, mountains supply more than half of humanity with water for drinking, irrigation, industry, food and energy production. The degradation of mountain ecosystem services has severe consequences for livelihoods and environments of downstream regions.

Mr. Robert Wabunoha, the legal officer at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), noted that despite their importance throughout human history and their wealth of resources, mountains have only recently begun to attract the attention of political decision-makers and planners.

“At national level, most countries do not have specific policies, laws or institutions simply because they have not been recognized as unique ecosystems that might require special attention,” he said, and added, “this situation requires Africa's immediate action and commitment in moving towards mountain governance and formulation of mountain specific laws, policies and institutions".

Their widespread and trans-boundary nature, also calls for regional cooperation in addressing this issues.” UNEP is supporting the preparation of the first African mountain atlas.

Experts at the forum are proposing policies and actions to protect and maintain fragile mountain ecosystems. These include promotion of sustainable use of mountains in order to ensure their global water supply function and to enhance their ability to moderate the impacts of climate change and natural hazards for the benefit of mankind.

They have also called for support of the concept of payment of ecosystem services (PES) for the benefit of mountain communities who provide these valuable ecosystem services to downstream users.

The African Mountains Regional Forum ends on Friday (today!). SOURCE East African Community Secretariat (EAC)

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