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Mountains Critical For Sustained Biodiversity Conservation

International Mountain Day 11th December, 2020 Theme - Mountains Matter for Biodiversity Conservation

Mountains cover a significant part of the land surface in Malawi. They provide life supporting goods and services for millions of people, including water, food and energy security at national, local and regional level. However despite their importance, mountains have received little attention in national discussions on environmental and developmental issues. As the World Celebrates International Mountains Day (IMD) today, it is critical that the ecosystems services provided by mountains are recognized and efforts put in place to conserve them.

The significance of mountain ecosystems cannot be overemphasized. Mountains are water towers. They are catchment areas of some of the major rivers in the country. For example Mulanje Mountain, is the catchment area of up to nine perennial rivers. These rivers directly support the livelihood of millions of people, apart from tea estates in Mulanje and Thyolo. The rivers also indirectly support millions through small-scale irrigation, pineapples and bananas.

Some AEJ members captured hiking Chipata Mountain inside NKK reserve this morning

The country largely depends on hydro power generation. Mountains being catchment areas of major rivers and tributaries contribute to the energy security of the country. Mountains host a wide range of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, rivers and wetlands. These contain a wide range of biodiversity which is a vital source pf food, medicine and for tourism.

In Malawi however, mountainous ecosystems and their biodiversity are facing a number of challenges due to population pressure, invasive species, wildfires, wanton tree cutting, poor land husbandry practices, habitat loss and fragmentation and poverty. People living in mountain areas face a lot of challenges as they lack basic facilities like access roads, schools and markets for their produce.

Climate change is compromising the role of mountain ecosystems as water towers. Decreasing water flow from mountains will seriously affect agricultural production and food security, not only for mountain communities but also for the millions of people who live in lowland areas and depend on irrigation water from mountain streams. Decreasing water flow from mountains is also threatening the supply of water to large urban centers in the lowlands and the production of hydropower as a result of drying up of water bodies due to frequent droughts and dry spells.

Global attention towards mountain areas started in 1992 with the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (UNCED). Chapter 13 promotes the sustainable development of mountain regions, points out the need for better understanding of the ecology of mountain ecosystems, and clearly acknowledges mountains’ importance for humankind.

In 1998, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that 2002 would be the International Year of Mountains (IYM). This year provided a catalyst for long-term and effective actions for implementing Chapter 13. The IYM also led to the designation of 11th December as International Mountain Day, which has been celebrated since 2003 with a different theme each year. International Mountain Day (IMD) is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mountains, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands.

Inside the Chipata Montane Forest at Nkhota Kota Wildlife Reserve close Ntchisi boundary

The theme of this year’s IMD celebration, "Mountain Biodiversity matters," highlights the social, economic and ecological value that mountain biodiversity holds for the planet.

Mountains host about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and 30 percent of all Key Biodiversity Areas. Mountains and their biodiversity provide food and medicine, as well as climate, water, soil and air quality regulation to humankind.

Mountain lands provide a scattered but diverse array of habitats in which a large range of plants and animals can be found. Part of this biodiversity is a result of rapid changes in climate based on altitude which results in habitations for many types of organisms. Mountain ecosystems are considered to be fragile. Therefore, large numbers of native plants and animals dwelling on these mountains are considered to be at risk or endangered. In Malawi, mountain ecosystems and their biodiversity are facing a number of challenges due to population pressure, invasive species, wildfires, wanton tree cutting, poor land husbandry practices, habitat loss and fragmentation and poverty. Therefore, the status and future trends of biodiversity on mountain ecosystems in Malawi shall depend on the intensity of these pressures or threats. Of late, pollution and climate change are considered emerging threats to biodiversity.

In Malawi, efforts are on the way to develop a National strategy on Sustainable Mountain Development and Conservation. Mountains require specific strategies and policies to achieve development. Goals, targets and indicators must be set to improve the livelihoods of mountain people and to conserve mountain ecosystems for the sustained prosperity of the present and future generations.

The World Mountain Partnership is an international, voluntary alliance dedicated to improving the lives of mountain people and protecting their environments around the world. Launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the Mountain Partnership taps its members’ wealth and diversity of expertise to promote results based collaboration, projects and information exchange on mountain issues at the national, regional and global levels. It is also a mechanism for networking and advocacy to support the cause of sustainable mountain development in relevant international processes and United Nations Conventions. Currently it has about 180 members from governments, civil society, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector.

Recently the World Mountain Partnership spearheaded a campaign for the inclusion of targets on mountains among the post 2015 Agenda i.e. the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was achieved through the adoption of SDG 15; Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. SDG 15.4 specifically targets mountain ecosystems.

Fascinating climbers captured inside the reserve by AEJ on World Mountain Day

About the Author Macpherson Nthara

The author is a Chief Land Resources Conservation Officer working for Land Resources Conservation Department at Lilongwe ADD. He is also the Focal Point for the World Mountain Partnership

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Macpherson Nthala
The author is an external correpondent for AEJ Malawi

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