By Myles Harris, on 1 December 2020
Mountains are often described as harsh, desolate environments that few people choose to venture to. Yet since 2003, 11th December is the United Nations International Mountain Day. This raised the question, why do mountains warrant a day of recognition? Perhaps it is because 27% of the Earth’s land surface is mountainous, which is home to approximately 1.1 billion people and that more than half of the fresh water humankind is dependent on is from a mountain source . With this in mind, it is clear mountains are integral to our life on Earth, but is there much life in the mountains?
The remoteness of mountain regions enable ecosystems to develop in isolation and the variety of micro-environments on each mountain (altitude, topography and weather) enrich the life that thrives there . Despite low levels of oxygen, challenging terrain and exposure to extreme weather, the biodiversity of mountains includes mammals, birds, insects, not to mention unique plants, vegetation and crops, all of which is in balance with human life at ground level . International Mountain Day is about celebrating the importance of mountains and this year the spotlight is on mountain biodiversity. However, International Mountain Day 2020 is also about creating awareness of how mountain biodiversity requires protection.
The impact of climate change and unsustainable living reaches even the remotest mountain environments and is causing significant damage to their ecosystems . Physically, glaciers are melting and landslides are more common, which is contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The deterioration of biodiversity in the mountains has negative consequences for the life that has existed there for millennia and the local communities who depend on it. As a result, the United Nations sustainable development goal 15 (target 1) concentrates on the sustainable management and conservation of mountain biodiversity . International strategy and cooperation is a positive step forward, but more research is needed to understand and inform disaster risk reduction for the protection of mountain biodiversity. A recent example is COVID19 – lockdowns were predicted to have positive effects on the climate; however, greenhouse gases have continued to rise  which accelerates biodiversity damage in the mountains.
Research of mountain-related phenomena can involve going into mountain environments and visiting communities who live there. Each mountain environment is unique, therefore a localised-approach to research reduces the risk of local communities and ecosystems being overlooked . However, mountain conditions are dynamic and unpredictable. Providing healthcare to researchers and local communities in these circumstances is extremely challenging. Figure 1 is photo of a medical tent on an expedition in a remote region of the Nepalese Himalayas, with the Doctor (right) and Nurse (left) who provided healthcare to a team of 15 (including themselves). With limited resources and environmental challenges, healthcare providers require the capability of acute emergency interventions (if needed) and prolonged field care (healthcare).
Prolonged field care is a newly recognised area of clinical practice and can be described as the provision of healthcare beyond expected duration and with limited resources to mitigate the risk of patient morbidity and mortality . Military healthcare systems have been developing this concept during the past few years due to the paradigm shift in military deployment and healthcare provision . However, civilian services are beginning to develop this area of practice too. Remote Area Risk International ® have developed a civilian prolonged field care course, which is relevant to expedition, wilderness and mountain medicine . Training and research of prolonged field care contributes to disaster risk reduction in mountainous environments,which promotes the health of researchers and local communities.
It is clear that although mountains appear to be everlasting, the impact of climate change and unsustainable living is damaging. However, the protection of all mountains and their biodiversity, informed by valid and reliable research, will enhance their resilience and contribute to sustainable development for all. #MountainsMatter
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