Nepali Times: ICIMOD's IYM calender is extremely busy. What, in your opinion, is the most important issue here?
Gabriel Campbell: We need to develop and operationalise a long-term vision. A world in which upstream areas are reimbursed for their services to the millions downstream, for their provision of renewable energy and water for irrigation, industry and households; their safeguarding of the biological diversity and places of spiritual pilgrimage and tourism, and all the other benefits provided by mountains. This could lead to both environmental and financial sustainability where poor mountain people and governments are no longer dependant on outside donors. Mountain people are resilient and adaptive. Given the real access to opportunities and supportive policies, they can take advantage of mountain resources to overcome the steep slopes and deep valleys which seem to be miring so many of them in poverty, conflict and hopelessness now.
How seriously do you think mountain concerns have been taken until now?
Some have been taken seriously, some haven't. For example, ICIMOD has volunteered to take on one issue at a global scale. One of the major activities is Celebrating Mountain Women (See article). In the Hindu Kush Himalaya, women are the major people involved in farming, agriculture, and livestock rearing; they are often the major caretakers of natural resources. Yet policies still tend to think of farmers in terms of men, small enterprise development in terms of men, and even mountain climbers in terms of men. Since women are so critical to mountains-and, subsequently, to the lowlands that depend on mountains-we'd like to set up regional and global networks and bring the profile of mountain women much higher, give women a space to discuss issues important to them and reorient programs to better support them.
But most such programs this year are based in Kathmandu or in urban areas where these people don't live, how will they know?
That's a valid point. We're trying to chalk out some programs that involve more grassroots people and can communicate with them more effectively. There is one big grassroots program in Yuksom in Sikkim from 15-19 April. This Himalayan regional meeting of mountain populations has been initiated by the French, and Sikkim will host the Asia conference where concerned people will discuss economy, culture, politics and identify critical mountain policies. It's a build-up to the world encounter in Quito, Ecuador in September and will feed into the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit at the end of October in Kyrgyzstan. We're also trying to disseminate information more in local languages and media to increase the effectiveness of our outreach with our 120 partner institutions in the region.
Are you sure the year won't simply end up devoted to window-dressing celebrations?
Sometimes you need such celebrations to make people feel that they are not alone. And isolated. Micro-credit groups of women can take and pay back loans, that doesn't mean they're always successful in growing the economy. But they do feed a greater source of empowerment through the social mobilisation and empowerment process. Mountain people are isolated within larger plains contexts. They are part of a regional, marginalised group, and the more people who understand that their issues are different from those in the plains, and that they can find solutions and strengths with other mountain peoples, the more hope increases. Many donors who are not interested in the celebrations are interested in the outcome of these events, the follow-up programs identified by mountain people themselves.