CAUCASUS CONCERN

By Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

A few hours flying time from Vienna there is a European mountain range longer and higher than the Alps. The Caucasus, the frontier with Asia stretch 1120 kms and ascend to 5642m at Mt Elbruz. This cradle of civilization has the most extraordinarily diverse natural and cultural heritage anywhere in Europe. There are 3000 vascular plants per 10,000 km2 whilst there are more than 40 subcultural linguistic groups only 12 of which have been committed to writing, with many more quite distinct dialects which may vary even from one village to the next. There are over 6 million speakers of non Indo European Caucasian languages, mostly Georgian a most ancient literate culture which has produced its own Shakespeare in Shota Rustaveli. Much  sustainable development and health traditional knowledge is in these secret hidden valleys. The region has long held records for human longevity. There are also relict, unknown even possibly extinct species. Last year the Musée de l' Homme went looking for Neanderthal survivors. 

But even if remote, the Caucasus have been exposed to devastating forces of destruction, especially war. Tbilisi has been razed 70 times in its history and there are presently deadly conflicts in Chechnya, Nagorno Karabakh, Ossetia and Abkhazia, and violence and tension throughout since the break up of the Soviet Union. 

The rapidly industrializing and urban regions are exposed to much pollution and there are dramatic effects of climate change as well as potential natural disasters such as earthquakes. There is an urgent need to record and preserve the Caucasus heritage particularly by greatly extending protected areas, demilitarized zones and reconciliation processes. 

Cyberlaps would like to help our mountain brothers by providing a web encyclopedia of existing knowledge and a platform for ideas which we will load on to the site and forward to UNEP who are preparing a Caucasus complement for the 2002 IYM GEO (Global Environment Outlook) survey. The 2000 GEO survey was published by our partners Earthscan www.earthscan.co.uk. Alp Action and IIASA Austria has also published some results from the UNEP/COM Caucasus project "Guidelines for the Integrated Management of Mountain Ecosystems" eds Turmanidze, Pitt et al WP-92-69 obtainable from www.iiasa.ac.at
 

NEW YEAR GREETINGS

We send to you ---dear cyberalpinists---our best wishes for the festive season and our hopes for a peaceful new year. May we say how much we have appreciated your visits since we started up last year. We want to extend our deep gratitude and thanks to our partner the Reuters Foundation for their generous support for this pioneer venture which has created a virtual voice for the cultural and natural alpine heritage. The struggle must go on for we live in troubled times. The sombre sequence of tragedies in the Alps continues and we must extend our sympathy and compassion to all those bereft and suffering. The mountains have always been a dangerous and unforgiving environment but we cannot fatalistically blame nature alone, even for the elemental forces of flood and fire, wind and ice.  Human nature is often the catalyst if not the cause in disasters, in creating a lifestyle which pollutes, accelerates climate instabilities and ignores common sense and conservation by constantly taking risks for pleasure or profit. Human nature too often ignores, or worse, abuses the treasures of our biodivesity and the legacy of our history. But if we are the problem we must also be the solution and everyone can do something We cordially invite you to plant a tree in the Kraft Alp Action Green Roof For Europe programme by sending a Xmas message from our home page. Like the best things in life this action is free and such a simple gesture will not only help soak up the greenhouse gases but put Xmas trees everywhere and keep the healthy image of the mountains so loved by tourists and montagnards alike.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
 

ALLING ALL CARING COMPANIES 

USE THE REUTERS ALP ACTION WEBSITE  cyberalps.com  TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE OF THE MOUNTAINS

A MESSAGE FROM Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, President of Alp Action

The Internet has an enormous potential for commerce but also increasingly to protect the environment, not least in the mountains where everywhere we see degradation in the air, water and soil, especially a decline in biodiversity, that threatens  the planet itself. Our cultural heritage, also intimately related to sustainable development, is disappearing as fast. We know that some far sighted, public spirited corporations are using the web to help in the task of environmental protection but too few have addressed the mountain problems. On our Reuters Alp Action website cyberalps.com, we specialize in publicizing on line the plight of  the Alps and building partnerships and creating synergies with the corporate world as well as the ngos and the public at large to help to save this endangered ecosystem and plan for a better future particularly through soft tourism. 

We would like to invite you to work with us in this vital task in the following very specific ways.
- read our daily news analyses and features that have made us a leading site on alpine action.
- send us messages of support, links and contacts, to share with our interactive readership on the Billboard. 
- tell us about your activities and plans in the fields of protecting the environmental and cultural heritage so we can report them in our Corporate Initiatives section.
- contact us to become a partner in exciting new projects at local level and let us capitalize on your commitment. Alp Action has already implemented more than 140 widely publicized projects since 1989. Ask for our list. 
- take advantage of our alpine web knowledge and expert networks for advice and assistance especially on the media, publicity, publishing, portals and  scenario analysis

We want to put the dot com into alpine action. 

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THE  INTERNET AND THE ALPS- POTENTIAL AND PROBLEMS- YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS NEEDED
by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, President of Alp Action
December 1999

It is a great pleasure to greet you as we approach the millennium, and on the first birthday of the Reuters Foundation Alp Action website www.cyberalps.com.

We should be modest however about the millennium which is a celebration only for a part of mankind, whilst the last 2000 years are only a drop in the bucket of the evolution of nature and culture in the Alps, which extends over millions of years. 

The World Wide Web invented here in the Alps at CERN in Geneva is ten years old, (the Internet is 30) but technically is more like a vintage car which may breakdown on the information superhighway, especially if the pessimists are right about the Y2K bug. There are nonetheless some impressive statistics. There are now over 200 million  people in the world who use the Internet. That number is doubling every two years and will increase more rapidly as the net uses cellphones and wireless. In the Alps, at least in Switzerland, a quarter of the population use the Internet, mostly from work, online for 16 hours a week. Emails are most popular. In some countries (Iceland leads the way) more than half the population use the net. But there are big challenges ahead. We now have the hardware, the computer frames and the software programmes but we still lack the input of enough scientific, independent and ethical knowledge to  help solve the problems of the world. At the moment most of the net is trivia or worse. Some estimates say that over 80% of hits are for pornography sites.

Standards and a frame of law are urgently needed on the net as elsewhere in the globalization revolution, a point dramatically illustrated at recent world trade talks in Geneva and Seattle. Freedom should not be confused with anarchy and should not compromise the protection of the environment. 

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SUSTAINABLE TOURISM IN THE ALPS
By Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

Tourism is the world’s largest industry having an annual turnover of  444 billion $US and mountains are an important part of the this industry having a share of about 20%, more than half of which is concentrated in the Alps, probably the world’s most saturated tourist region as well as being perhaps the most fragile ecosystem. Probably 150 million visitors  come to, or through, the Alps every year in nearly 50 million vehicles, on more than 400,000 kms of sealed roads, sleeping in 5 million beds. 
    Such a massive influx has huge environmental effects and makes imperative that there is a policy of soft tourism, favouring rail for example. At present only about 1 in 6 visitors travel by train in the region. Much more than this is needed however including more protected areas. Less than 5% of the Alps is in national parks. 

>And last but not least there is more need for tourists and residents themselves to respect the environment. Despite all the commandments and entreaties in every tourist office and along every path there is still too much litter, too many fires as well as wanton destruction of rare fauna and flora and desecration of the cultural heritage. 

    Dear cyberalpinists -- we need new messages and a better use of new media like the Internet on which I am communicating to you now. To encourage you to come forward with innovative proposals  cyberalps .com is pleased to open a contest on --What can be done to promote soft tourism in the Alps? Entries should be sent to alpaction@bellerive.org or to Alp Action PO Box 3006 CH 1211 Geneva 3 Switzerland. Entries should be no more than 250 words in length in English or any other Alpine language. Entries may be from individuals or groups. Closing date 1 January 2000. The winning entry will be published in full and all other worthy entries will appear on the site too and be given a special certificate from Reuters - Alp Action. The best proposal could have a financial support by Alp Action. A summary of recommendations will be sent to the major tourist organizations. Tell your friends about the contest. Thanking you in advance for your help. 
 

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

      Dear cyberalpinists. It is a truism, but worth repeating that human health in the Alps, or indeed any ecosystem, depends on a healthy environment, ---- clean water and air, a thriving fauna and flora in unpolluted habitats based on sustainable development, in short the good things of life itself. The very word health in English is derived from the same root that also gives holism, holiday and holy. All is linked and  there is something sacred about preserving the natural and cultural heritage. In modern management jargon there should be a positve optimistic ethic where health and development strategies should all interlock for the common good to promote growth  and improve the quality of life. 
      We also know that there are “bads” as well as goods in modern or indeed all history. The ancient Manichean philosophy, and much Alpine legend and literature for that matter, talks of a  constant battle between good and evil, between sickness and health, between life and death; the former to be achieved by simple if  austere life styles and traditional wisdom close to nature. Most of the bad things we face in the mountains today are man made  --- the pollution and greenhouse effect created by excess carbon consumption, the wasteful and excessive use of resources, the wars and conflicts, the inquities and ineqities of a materialistic society--- all of which have very adverse health effects even in the richest societies. Of course there are still the natural hazards as we saw in the terrible snows this February but more people are killed on European roads everyday than died in the “avalanches of the  century”this winter . 
       But there is much hope. For if the problems are largely man made then so too can be the solutions. To traditional wisdom we can add appropriate technology and modern medicine. More than that, the protection of the environment and the prevention of health problems need better communication and dialogue amongst the different actors, more “horizontality” to use Dr Brundtland’s word, more partnerships -- public, private and popular. We hope that the rapidly expanding world wide web to which our cyberalps.com site is committed will start to engender the necessary cooperation and trust through virtual interaction, in much the same way as our 140 Alp Action projects have done between the corporate world and the grass roots over the last ten years. 
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