Small mountain states have always attracted Swiss development projects. Switzerland has acquired valuable experience in tackling social, economic and environmental issues facing mountain communities, trying always to keep a balance between conservation and development. It is a veritable tightrope – or what German aptly calls a “Gratwanderung” = a “ridge walk”.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) spearheads and supports geography-specific projects as part of its larger country programmes. These projects are linked directly and indirectly with mountains. For example, the aim of the long-term SDC “Central Asian Mountain Partnership” programme, or CAMP, which is based in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, is to encourage sustainable development in mountain areas. The programme operates on three levels: in local villages, in test areas and districts, and internationally between the Central Asian states and beyond. It seeks to improve skills, test new approaches to development, and ensure that all those who use mountain resources, at whatever level, have access to relevant information, and are able to participate in the planning and decision-making process.
This is just one example of projects in just one branch of activity, in just one programme. All involve a range of partners – local groups, national and foreign experts and state bodies – who have a steadfast commitment to ensuring the sustainable development of mountain areas.
The CDE has conducted research in several mountainous areas of the world, which feeds into aid projects.
For example, a five year programme in Nepal, which ended in 1999, looked at the impact of mountain tourism in three different areas of the Himalayas: Everest, Annapurna and the Upper Mustang regions. Among the issues it examined was the way in which tourism had affected the standard of living in local communities and what effect it had had on other economic activities. As part of its social research it looked at the role of women in tourism. It also investigated the physical impact of tourism on the environment.
One of the studies, for example, carried out in the Sagarmatha National Park in the foothills of Everest, looked at the demands on natural resources made by the influx of tourists for such things as cooking and heating. It found among other things that the use of wood doubles in the trekking season and called for a greater use of alternative energy sources in order to avoid a collapse of the ecological system.