It is said the only thing more beautiful than mountains is more mountains. But mountains provide more than beauty.
They nourish ecosystems, nurture biodiversity, bestow food and livelihoods for local populations, and bolster national economies. Mountains are crucial for economic growth, and preserving mountain landscapes is among the key objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals for a green and just future.
Yet, in Europe and Central Asia, mountains are at the epicenter of climate change impacts and climate-driven weather events, like droughts, floods, mudflows, and landslides. Coupled with unsustainable land use practices, overgrazing, or deforestation, such impacts threaten more than just landscapes. They destroy agricultural lands, homes, roads, and bridges, while rising temperatures and melting mountain glaciers jeopardize water supply for millions of people in valleys across Europe and Central Asia.
Preservation and restoration of mountain landscapes represents a key component in protecting against such losses and advancing countries’ ambitions for a greener economy. Increasingly, landscape restoration and afforestation – together with improved agricultural productivity, rural development, and nature-based tourism – are at the core of national strategies for green growth, yielding nature-based solutions to strengthen countries’ resilience to natural disasters and climate change.
That’s why we at the World Bank are proud to work with the countries of Europe and Central Asia to preserve landscapes and restore ecosystems in mountainous regions, like we are doing in Albania, Turkey, and the Aral Sea Basin.
Albania: Enhancing livelihoods and environmental services for upland communities
Albania is endowed with mountain ranges covering more than half its territory. However, unsustainable forestry and farming practices like overgrazing have led to soil erosion, reduced agricultural output, water and air pollution, and degraded landscapes, especially in erosion-prone upland areas.
Through the Environmental Services Project (ESP), the World Bank, jointly with the Government of Albania and with support from the Government of Sweden and Global Environmental Facility, has been helping communities, farmers, and relevant associations in forest planning and restoration. Since 2015, ESP has trained more than 1,200 farmers who are now implementing best practices in sustainable resource and land use. The project has also expanded the first formal registration of property rights for municipalities to more than one million hectares (35% of Albania’s territory).
Apart from preserving and restoring mountain landscapes and formalizing land tenure rights, ESP has secured livelihoods for over 3,850 people (28% of whom are women) in 3,000 remote and poor communities, through access to $5.6 million in grants. And, as a result of this project’s success, the Government of Albania has included forestry development in its new Instrument for Pre-Accession for Rural Development (IPARD III) Program, which is set to receive another $6.8 million in EU-funded grants.
With more than 12,000 hectares of new or improved forests and pastures, ESP has contributed to the greening of Albania’s mountains and bettered the livelihoods and well-being of those most in need.
Turkey: Making mountains, landscapes, and communities more resilient
Like in Albania, Turkey’s rugged mountain topography, steep slopes, short rivers, degraded natural resources, and ever-evolving land use policies have increased the risks of floods, landslides, and soil erosion. Exacerbated by climate change, these natural calamities harm people’s health and livelihoods and cause substantial damage to infrastructure, property, and agriculture.
The World Bank’s $135 million Turkey Resilient Landscape Integration Project (TULIP), recently launched jointly with the Government of Turkey, aims to address seasonal flooding, droughts, soil erosion, and landslides in the Bolaman and Cekerek river basins — areas with high poverty rates and extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts which include mountains. TULIP will restore forests, train farmers in sustainable agriculture, and build climate-resilient infrastructure for irrigation and water supply.
Through TULIP, we expect more than 90,000 people to directly benefit from increased access to flood protection, better quality and availability of drinking water, irrigation supply for agriculture, and roads. Around 20,000 farmers will be able to adopt sustainable agricultural practices, and 13,000 households in remote forest villages will receive improved and climate-resilient infrastructure for irrigation and water supply.
Restoring mountain landscapes in Central Asia
The Pamir and Tian Shan — Central Asia’s main mountain ranges— extend across Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. For rural populations residing in these upland and mountainous areas, agriculture is the principal source of income. Unfortunately, climate change and unsustainable land use practices here are harming people and the environment.
Mountains and ecosystems know no borders, so strong regional cooperation is key. The World Bank’s Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program in the Aral Sea Basin (CAMP4ASB) has been supporting mountainous regions in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to address the basin’s common climate and environmental challenges.
Supported by IDA and the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and implemented jointly with Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC) and the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, CAMP4ASB works to improve regional cooperation and adoption of climate-smart agriculture and landscape management in those rural communities most vulnerable to climate impacts and extreme weather events. By increasing resilience to, or reversing, desertification and land degradation, the program can improve food security and livelihoods.
Through CAMP4ASB, since 2016, nearly 6,000 farmers have learned and adopted sustainable climate-smart agricultural, landscape, and water management practices on 18,450 hectares across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The project has contributed to conservation agriculture, sustainable mountain ecosystems, and ecotourism, while supporting energy efficient improvements and renewable energy. Some 200,000 rural poor have benefitted from an enhanced knowledge base and investments in crop diversification, climate-resilient seed banks, and efficient water resource management. CAMP4ADB is now focused on working with local communities to expand these practices thanks to additional financing from GCF.
Building on these successful initiatives, the World Bank is supporting governments in Europe and Central Asia with innovative studies and projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Armenia, as well as a regional program in the mountains of Central Asia, through Resilient Landscapes (RESILAND CA+), which is supported by PROGREEN. These activities will help restore landscapes across boundaries, protect lives and livelihoods, promote ecotourism, and increase the resilience of people and places against climate change and natural disasters.
As we celebrated International Day of Mountains on December 11, 2021 and are wrapping up the first year of the 2021-2030 UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in the Europe and Central Asia region, we continue to recognize the critical role mountains and mountainous communities play in preserving and nurturing, the environment, culture, and economies. If we don’t, both the beauty and bounty of our mountains could be irrevocably lost.