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January 2014 Issue
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Editorial letter, January 2014

One day in December last year passed like any other. Except for the United Nations, it didn’t. December 11 was International Mountain Day.

Many international days of this or that are fairly trivial and wishy-washy, but consider this: around 27 per cent of the earth’s land surface is covered by mountains and they play a direct role in the sustenance and wellbeing of 720 million mountain people around the world, no doubt including people living in places like Te Anau, Queenstown and Milford Sound. The downstream benefits of mountains indirectly affect billions more people, including Aucklanders who like to holiday in places like Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound.

The UN’s International Mountain Day set a challenge to identify new and sustainable opportunities for communities in developing countries to help eradicate poverty without degrading fragile mountain ecosystems. At its core, International Mountain Day is about highlighting the importance of sustainable mountain development.

With so many people reliant on mountains for their wellbeing, it’s a worthy goal few could argue against.

But when you consider the appetite in New Zealand, and other developed countries, to extract any mineral to the last ounce from the ground, or to build a monorail through a World Heritage Area and a motorway that would split Fiordland National Park in two, you have to wonder if the UN’s focus on the poor is right. Developed nations are equally as dangerous to the mountains as developing ones.

I guess a monorail will be vastly more valuable to the ‘impoverished’ communities of Te Anau, Queenstown and Milford Sound than a World Heritage Area ever would be; why else would the Department of Conservation give the development the go-ahead?

At the end of the day, it seems a bit rich to ask the world’s poorest people to develop sustainably if already developed countries still think it a good idea to blaze roads through pristine wilderness areas.

Good luck getting the real poor people on side with that. But then, I guess that’s why International Mountain Day passed unnoticed in New Zealand. We don’t like to be reminded of our own hypocrisy.