International Mountain Day (IMD) is celebrated every year on December 11 in order to create and raise greater awareness about the importance of mountains to humans and ecology and to highlight the opportunities and challenges in mountain development. Keeping in view the importance of the mountains, Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) launched its policy advocacy and public awareness in 2002 to mark the International Year of Mountains. Pakistan Mountain Festival was founded in 2009 with the objectives to raise awareness and mainstream the challenges being faced by the mountains of Pakistan and the impact of climate change on the communities and in the terrain; to promote and mainstream the mountain products, eco-tourism and culture; to provide the mountain communities market linkages for the promotion of their goods and services; to give a push to the review process of the national and regional policies and programs concerning the mountain issues; to mainstreaming the best practices in the realm of biodiversity conservation, environment and climate change, and highlighting the importance and marketing of the mountain ecosystem services.The tradition of celebrating the significance of mountains continued this year with a two-week long festival were youth, general public and mountain communities engaged in several activities. Citizens’ engagement for Margalla Hills The festival kicked off with a citizens’ consultative meeting at the Islamabad Chaupal’s where the engagement of citizens for the protection of Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) was discussed. Key speakers included Islamabad Wildlife Board Chairman Dr Anisur Rehman, Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) Deputy Mayor Zeeshan Shah Naqvi, Capital Development Authority (CDA) former member Zubair Usmani, Dr Nadeem Omar, Izza Khan and Ayub Malik. Devcom-Pakistan director and festival’ founder Munir Ahmed briefed the participants about the challenges confronting Magalla Hills while Dr Rehman informed them about the park’s history and landscape.Dr Rehman said tree-cutting, fire, loss of biodiversity, littering and water scarcity are the key challenges the MHNP is facing. Lack of human and financial resources are the main hurdle in spreading its work and control over the entire park. We have controlled many violations but still need to work hard to save the MHNP from the mafias and cartels, he added. Naqvi said the MCI would take active citizens on board to reduce the exploitation of the Margalla Hills. He also asked the group to develop an outline of the Cultural Trail from the village Shah Allah Ditta to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region bordering with the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).The citizens asked the authorities to take measures to keep the Margallas clean and green according to the government’s vision by reducing the solid waste and deforestation and restoring the natural fresh water streams. Those throwing their sewage in the nearby streams and over-pumping the ground water and abusing it shall be fined. Margalla Hills Train-3 clean upWith the support of Devcom-Pakistan, the members of Islamabad Devcom Centennial Leo Club (IDCLC) and nature-loving citizens picked up litter from the Margalla Hills Trail-3 on December 2. MCI Deputy Mayor Naqvi and Devcom-Pakistan Creative Director Riffat Ara Baig and IDCLC president Haares Munir led the clean-up.Naqvi said that the MCI would be implementing the Clean and Green Pakistan initiative in the capital without any discrimination of rural and urban areas.Youth art exhibition ‘Mountain Landscape and Culture’An exhibition of paintings by local colleges and universities students reflecting the mountains landscape and culture was held at the Rawalpindi Arts Council (RAC) on December 5. As many as 70 pieces of art were put on display.The exhibition was inaugurated by well-known Pakistani mountaineer Hassan Jan who climbed te K2 peak in 2014.Speaking on the occasion, Jan said he appreciated the work done by the youth, adding that the students should visit the mountains in order to know the actual life and living culture there. He said the resources of the mountains were being depleted due to over exploitation and deforestation that has caused lack of mountaineering activities. He said mountaineering is already a neglected field of adventure sports and the government should give the issue priority.Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said, “Well-aware and sensitised youth about environmental sustainability is the last hope to protect the mother planet through conservation and development initiatives. The damage done by the older generation is irreparable but still there is hope to slowdown the process of degradation by reducing the Greenhouse Gas emissions, eliminating indiscriminate deforestation and by taking steps for inclusive and integrated afforestation”. “The exhibits reflect young artists’ love for the mountains and its culture through variety of colours and treatment in oil-on-canvas. The Hunza and Kalash women, culture and heritage have been the preferred themes for some of the participants. The themes and the images the youth painted in the live competition shows their skills and love for the mountains, but sadly no one knows the actual threats to the mountains, its people and culture. We the ‘experts’ and the organisations are responsible for the youth’s ignorance towards the worst climate changes happening around us. We need to launch youth awareness campaign on changing climate. The government agencies, multilateral organisation and the education institutions need to launch an inclusive and comprehensive initiative to inform and educate the young,” he added.RAC Resident Director Waqar Ahmed said the council has been supporting Pakistan Mountain Festival events to inculcate awareness among the youth and other segments of the society. He said the RAC-Devcom collaboration is meaningfully contributing for the social awareness and engagement.Nahid Manzoor, the art and culture expert, said art can be a multi-fold medium to educate and inspire the youth and general public to love mountains not only for their beauty and natural landscape but as source of biodiversity, forests and frozen water that we need to continue our life and livelihood.”The participants termed the event a source to inculcate love for nature and to sensitise the youth on the issues confronting the highlands.Mountain Cultural ShowcaseThe two-week long eighth Pakistan Mountain Festival concluded with the screening of international mountain films, cultural and music performances, and mountain youth forum organised at the Lok Virsa on Sunday. The brief concluding ceremony recognised the services of the supporting organizations and individuals.The Mountain Cultural Showcase was the last event that comprised of an exhibition of paintings by 20 art teachers and display of handicrafts and horticultural products and cultural performances from different regions.The films screened at the Pakistan Mountain Festival were some of the best selected from the Inkafest International Mountain Film Festival, which takes place in Peru – South-America.Mountain Youth Forum and cultural performancesThe Mountain Cultural Showcase was opened with the Mountain Youth Forum and cultural performances on Saturday. MCI Zeeshan Naqvi speaking on the occasion said that mountains are wonderful part of the planet that is full of resources that we need to protect and conserve.But, we also need to take care of the people living in the mountains. Their education, health and livelihood depend on the integrated sustainable strategies where the human beings should be the focus of, he added.Environmentalist Ali Ahmed Jan said the environmental impact assessment is missing from the development that has increased the stress on the nature and natural environment. He said we have law but lack implementation. He urged the youth to realise the potential of their skills to empower the marginalised communities of their areas.Published in Daily Times, December 13th 2018.