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Kyrgyzstan: Summit Highlights Special Problems Of Mountainous Areas

The first Global Mountain Summit, organized by the Kyrgyz government and United Nations Environment Program, ended today in Bishkek. The forum brought together more than 500 representatives of 50 governments and NGOs. RFE/RL takes a look at what was accomplished.

Prague, 1 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The first Global Mountain Summit has ended in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Observers and participants hailed it as a success for drawing attention to the special problems facing the world's mountainous regions, which cover around a quarter of the planet's surface.

Abdulla Sobirov, a Kyrgyz journalist who covered the Bishkek summit, assessed the significance of the event: "I think the importance of this summit is that it drew international attention to the problems of people living in mountains, issues such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of transport and communication. The summit made it clear that these problems are not unique only to Kyrgyzstan, but are characteristic of most mountainous nations, and it's time for united efforts to tackle these problems."

Participants discussed a wide range of issues, including threats to drinking water, wildlife, and insensitive economic development. The UN says mountainous areas are especially important sources of water.

The United Nations Environment Program, on the eve of the summit, issued a new report called "Mountain Watch." The report says that the worlds mountainous regions, considered indomitable and unchanging, were gradually being altered as more and more land is converted to farming and grazing.

Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aytmatov, in his speech to the summit, drew attention to what he called "modern attitudes," including careless exploitation of resources, ruinous agricultural reserves, and wars: "The absence of connections in the system of nations, in the system of nature and human being, is a result of a technical, heartless approach to the environment. In this regard, a great role in crisis prevention belongs to science, religion, art, and other factors which compose the spirituality of nations."

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, in his address to the group, echoed Aytmatov's words: "Let the Bishkek summit sow seeds, as a sower whose invocations were just delivered by our well-known writer, humanist Chingiz Aytmatov, seeds of harmonious, economic, and cultural development of people of mountains in the new 21st century."

One of the issues discussed was the correlation between wars and mountainous life. Academic Vladimir Kotlyakov, the director of the Russian Geography Institute, says it is no accident that wars, such as the Chechen war in Russia, are often a feature of mountainous territories: "[Many] modern conflicts, most of them interethnic, are taking place in mountains. Today, there are 43 major conflicts in the world and 26 of them are linked with mountains. This is happening because mountains were traditionally a marginal part of lands and nations. Mountains were for a long time isolated from the rest of the world due to mountainous conditions. Then, there is the high number of ethnic minorities in mountains. There is little land and it is not enough for everybody. Thats why the multiethnic factor, the lack of land, and very weak social development are the main reasons for conflicts in mountainous areas."

Kotlyakov and other participants stressed that in order to prevent wars in mountainous areas, governments and international organizations must implement consistent development projects.

A final document from the summit will be presented to the UN General Assembly for approval.