UN intervention needed to protect indigenous mountain cultures

December 31, 2017
By Haares Munir
Daily Times

‘Food and Agricultural Organisation Pakistan shall gear up and lead a Sustainable Mountain Development agenda,’ says Founding Director Pakistan Mountain Festival Munir Ahmed

Islamabad: “The indigenous mountain cultures are vanishing due to hunger and migration caused by lack of livelihood options, fast deteriorating natural habitats and ecosystems. UN agencies shall come up with a comprehensive, inclusive and integrated strategic framework for action to protect the natural environment, habitats and ecosystems of indigenous mountain cultures. If the indigenous mountain people migrate from their native places to the plains for their livelihood, mountains would become barren of colourful cultures and folk wisdom would be wiped off.”

Executive Director Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) and Founding Director Pakistan Mountain Festival Munir Ahmed made the above remarks while speaking at the closing ceremony of the Seventh Pakistan Mountain Festival.

He believes that the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, having a broader mandate and scope of work, should lead an inclusive Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) agenda in Pakistan. “The Mountain Partnership, established in 2002 by the FAO, UN Environment and the governments of Italy and Switzerland, has a clear roadmap for mountain conservation and development since its inception but unfortunately lacks implementation in developing countries such as Pakistan,” said Munir Ahmed.

He also voiced for a vigorous and integrated Sustainable Mountain Development saying that the changing climate impact could only be reduced with enhanced community resilience. Inclusive and participatory conservation with ownership of the local communities would be the only solution to fast degrading mountain ecosystems and habitats.

Pakistan Mountain Festival is an annual flagship thematic advocacy festival of Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) that raises awareness on challenges confronting our mountains and the communities. The main objectives of the festival include raising awareness and mainstreaming the challenges being faced by the mountains of Pakistan, the impact of climate change on the communities and the terrain, promoting and mainstreaming eco-tourism and culture, providing mountain communities market linkages for the promotion of their goods and services, giving a push in order to review the process of national and regional policies and programs concerning mountain issues, mainstreaming the best practices in the realm of biodiversity conservation as well as environment and climate change, and highlighting the importance and marketing of the mountain ecosystem services.

Munir Ahmed says “the vulnerability of Pakistan’s mountains is increasing with every passing day; this is making the life and livelihood of the people miserable, leading to migration, hunger and poverty. On the other hand, the elected representatives from mountain constituencies are sleeping over the fate of fast depleting local resources and the miseries of the mountain communities. The sustainable conservation and development of mountains cannot be achieved without active participation of the communities. Mountain cultures have already been polluted due to the urbanisation of mountain areas that has increased issues of waste management and exploitation of natural resources.”

Munir Ahmed fears that mountain cultures will die out soon if immediate measures are not taken to promote and sustain local livelihood that is mostly interlinked with ecosystem goods and services, while natural habitats are linked with tourism and trekking. We need to educate the mountain communities on how to make tourism and trekking more sustainable for the sustenance of their livelihood options, at their doorsteps. This would slow down migration and improve poverty conditions.

This year the festival was launched on the 25th of November with a wall-climbing activity for teenagers despite the city being blocked by religious fanatics and finally concluded with a rock-climbing activity for the youth on December 17th. Other activities included the Mountain Film Festival, Youth Forum, Mountain Cultural Fest, painting exhibition for students, live-painting competition for art teachers, Margalla Hills National Park Trail 5 clean-up, and tree-plantation on the hills.

Devcom-Pakistan organised several activities and events that spread over a span of three weeks with support of its partners including United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pakistan Environment and Energy wing, World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Pakistan), Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (IESE) of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad Devcom Centennial Leo Club (IDCLC), Ibex Club and the Adventure Club. All partners were given away mementos of the festival while some of the participants were also awarded certificates of appreciation for their active and productive engagement in the 7th Pakistan Mountain Festival activities and events.

“Our efforts are being recognised by the mountain communities and their youth through active participation, which is why we have especial events to engage communities in our festival which promotes their talent and potential in real-time. In recognition of our services and contribution to provide market linkages to mountain communities for their products and services and to mainstream the challenges confronting the mountains, the UN FAO supported Rome-based Mountain Partnership has given us organisational membership two years back. This has led us to highlight the plight of mountain communities and the challenges being faced by Pakistan’s mountains,” said Munir Ahmed.

He added that in the Fifth Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership convened on 11-13 December 2017 in Rome (Italy), a ‘Framework for Action’ stating the global vision and action programme has been developed and agreed by the members and partners present on the occasion to ensure Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) across the globe. FAO Pakistan needs to adopt it and take it up energetically to gear up SMD interventions in Pakistan.

Munir Ahmed urged the FAO Pakistan to establish a national secretariat of the Mountain Partnership for integrated interventions and sustainable implementation of the ‘Framework for Action’.

“The UNDP has a long history of investments in mountain environment, conservation of its natural resources and the well-being of its communities,” said UNDP Programme Officer Aarish Naseem. She further added that the UNDP and partners would continue with the sustainable development agenda to ensure Pakistan achieves its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

WWF-Pakistan Programme Officer Muhammad Waseem said “the conservation of nature is very important for the sake of wildlife too. The protection of ecosystems and habitats are very essential. Local and provincial governments need to act proactively, and initiatives such as the Pakistan Mountain Festival play a pivotal role in raising awareness by engaging different communities and stakeholders in different activities.”

Esam Khattak, CEO of the Ibex Club said “engaging the youth in adventure activities helps in sensitising them to the unique characteristics of the mountains and their importance.”