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Fast facts: Mountains

A quick rundown on our planet’s ecosystems

Mountain peaks in Santa Cruz Province in Patagonia, Argentina. Mariano Mantel, Flickr
13 September 2019
Annapurna Range, Himalayas, Nepal
Aerial view of the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas near Kathmandu, Nepal. Michael Foley, Flickr

Mountain environments cover 27 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are found in 53 countries across every continent. About 1 billion people live in mountain areas globally, making them key centers of biological and cultural diversity and home to a wide variety of languages, ethnic groups, religions and belief systems.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco
The Atlas Mountains in Morocco, home to small communities of farmers and nomads. orientalizing, Flickr

However, mountain dwellers are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and in developing countries, about one in three mountain people is at risk of food insecurity.

Alborz Mountains, Tehran, Iran
The Alborz Mountains tower over Tehran, the capital of Iran and a city of 8.7 million. The smog is a result of Tehran’s notorious air pollution. Franx’, Flickr

Mountains provide 60 to 80 percent of our planet’s freshwater. In effect, they’re the water towers of the world. But mountain ecosystems are extremely fragile and under threat from climate change, land degradation and natural disasters.

Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloons over Cappadoccia, a region of Turkey known for its distinctive rock formations and popular with international tourists. Yusuke Matsumura, Flickr

Mountain areas are also increasingly important for recreation and tourism, making up 15 to 20 percent of global tourism. Particularly in mountainous developing countries, tourism is an important source of growth and employment but also poses risks for surrounding ecosystems.

Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. Dave Buchhofer, Flickr

Climate change has caused glaciers to melt, resulting in devastating landslides, flooding, and loss of vegetation and soils. Inappropriate agricultural and forestry practices and extractive industries also pose a major threat to many mountain environments.

Read the rest of our ‘fast facts’ series on ecosystems below.

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