Mountains: harnessing sustainable development potential and managing risks

Three Peruvian experts roped together walking on a glacier.
Expedition to the Cordillera Vilcanota in Peru. The SDC has funded several collaborative projects between Peruvian and Swiss glaciologists. © University of Zurich

The SDC is active in mountain regions primarily in Latin America and Asia. Mountain communities are often highly vulnerable and face a variety of risks in connection with natural disasters. SDC efforts in mountain regions seek to reduce these risks. Meanwhile, mountains are also a great source of potential for sustainable development.

Mountain regions have always been a focus for SDC activities, which seek to create better living conditions and decent incomes for poor communities. This is because these often difficult environments are home to 12% of the world’s population.

People in mountain communities earn a tough living through small-scale farming, face harmful consequences from climate change, live under the continual threat of natural disasters (floods, landslides, avalanches), and generally have to travel long distances to access basic services.

The SDC supports numerous projects worldwide to help improve the lives and resilience of people in such communities.

Diverse ecosystems

Mountain regions harbour in fact a great deal of development potential. Mountainous areas host diverse ecosystems. They supply half of the global population with fresh drinking water. Provided they are protected and sustainably maintained, mountains offer a wealth of opportunities to generate incomes.

In Eastern Europe, the SDC is therefore working with local communities to promote local products and develop sustainable tourism. In Tajikistan, a vast irrigation infrastructure renovation programme is both increasing farm productivity and reducing the risk of flooding. In Peru scientific research is exploring ways to benefit from glacier melt – a phenomenon well-known to Switzerland – including the potential building of hydropower plants.

Disaster prevention in mountainous regions

Mountainous regions are among the most exposed to the impacts of climate change. It is thus necessary to engage as many stakeholders as possible in disaster prevention efforts.

Vital trail bridges

After the devastating earthquakes of 2015 in Nepal, rebuilding efforts supported by the SDC included the trail bridges, which are essential for the local populations living in the Himalayan mountains.

Glacier studies in Central Asia

Central Asia’s glaciers are melting. This means that the distribution of water resources in the region needs to be reassessed. The SDC is helping to train top local scientists and support joint water management.