A Summit of Summits

Article excerpt

IN RECENT YEARS, mountain communities around the world have found they share a lot in common (see Americas July-August. 2000). Their concerns, from growing water scarcity to cultural erosion, economic development, and risk, formed the basis of the High Summit, held May 6-10.

Billed as a multimedia extravaganza that would involve sites near the highest peaks on five continents, the summit was a keystone event in the U.N.-sponsored International Year of Mountains (www.mountains2002.org). It set out to link, via live internet video-conference, groups gathered in Kathmandu, Nepal; Italy; Nairobi, Kenya; and Mendoza, Argentina, departure point for hiking to Aconcagua, South America's highest peak. Over 300 people participated at those sites, including over 150 in Mendoza. Across Latin America, they were joined by another 2,000 members of InfoAndina, a regional mountain network, who participated by e-mail.

The conference addressed a major theme each day, with live panels, dialogue, and e-mail discussions. Participants noted the importance of mountain water resources to downstream populations and recommended measures for overseeing the process of watershed management, often a flashpoint in upland-lowland relationships.

Dr. Alejandro Brown, an ecologist with the Universidad National de Tucuman, noted the important role of Andean cloud forests in biodiversity and water supply. The mist trapped by cloud forests in northern Argentina and southern Bolivia is a major source of moisture in those areas. But urgent measures are needed to resolve management problems, he said, "or large areas of the Andes will disappear in coming years."

Session summaries cited the conflicts caused by growing demands for water from mining operations and the commercialization of water supplies. …

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