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Mountains play a key role in sustainable develop­ment and their importance will increase in future due to their significance in economic development, environmental protection, ecological sustainability, and human well­ being.

The Qwaqwa Campus is situated in one of the most biologically diverse areas of South Africa. This area is the most important water catchment area for South Africa and Lesotho; the wetland systems in the area are at the highest altitudes and provide critical water purification services for the people of both countries. Of equal significance is the cultural heritage in the area, which is home to the greatest gallery of rock art in the world.

However, despite this significant asset base, the area is increasingly under serious threat from various un­sustainable land­ use systems, and a number of environ­mental stresses, including land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Under predicted climate change conditions, these stresses will increase and hence undermine sustainable development efforts. At the same time the area is characterised by high levels of poverty and specific development challenges, including difficult access, economic and political marginality, out­ migration, diversity of livelihoods and cultural diversity.

The Qwaqwa Campus is thus ideally suited to be the home of a research unit that harnesses interdisciplinary expertise to focus on addressing the sustainable develop­ment of this important montane area – stretching across two countries (South Africa and Lesotho) and including more than 600km of mountain range. The primary focus of the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) is “The sustainable development of the Maloti-Drakensbrg Afromontane area”.

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