According to assessments, the life of one tenth of the entire human population depends directly on mountains. They are not important only for the people who inhabit them, but also for those who live in the valleys and basins below them. On a global level, the mountains’ greatest value is that they are the source or the place where the largest rivers in the world are created.
Mountains are often called water fortresses and water towers. They capture the moisture from the atmosphere and push it up, thus creating clouds which give us rain and snow. They have an important role in several parts of the water cycle; capturing the water, after condensation, they receive water in the form of snow and thus it is preserved until the spring and summer melting, which provides running water for all men’s needs as well as for all ecosystems.
Lately it is increasingly clear that if mountains are not properly managed as an ecosystem, the shortage of water is a highly expected outcome. This will directly impact agriculture and food production, particularly in developing countries and countries with no strategy for conservation of water resources, such as ours.
Even though they appear strong and constant, mountains are very sensitive ecosystems. Their geomorphology: peaks, glaciers, passes, saddles and plateaus make them very unstable. Mountain soils, which are formed very slowly because of the altitude and low temperatures, are young, shallow and porous, and thus susceptible to erosion.
Human activities can very quickly disturb the delicate ecological balance of mountains. Deforestation of high forests, mining, unsustainable farming, urbanization as well as global warming directly impact the mountains, and thus the water they store.
All changes in mountains have a double or triple effect on the valleys below them.
Healthy mountain ecosystems can prevent erosions, reduce the quantity of sediment in lakes and rivers and thus reduce the possibility for floods in the valleys.
Water is essential for human life, but healthy mountain ecosystems are essential for global water reserves.