Health problems

Posted: 13 May 2008

A disproportionately high number of the world's hungriest and chronically malnourished people live in mountain regions.

Women collecting water at Maseru,Lesotho highlands© Hjalte Tin/Still Pictures
Women collecting water at Maseru,Lesotho highlands© Hjalte Tin/Still Pictures
Women collecting water at Maseru,Lesotho highlands. © Hjalte Tin/Still Pictures

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), malnutrition and food insecurity in mountain regions contribute to increased disease and disability and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who flee drought and famine.

A disproportionately high number - 815 million - of the world's hungriest and chronically malnourished people live in mountain regions, according to FAO. Although mountain people represent about 12 per cent of the world's population, mountain communities carry a much larger portion of the burden.

Millions of people in the Andes, Himalaya and other large mountain areas of the world suffer from goitre and cretinism caused by iodine deficiency. Melting snow and heavy rainfall regularly leach fragile mountain soils of their iodine content. At the same time, in many mountain communities, Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, while raising the risk of disease and death from severe infections.

Man with goitre, Indonesia
Man with goitre, Indonesia
Man with goitre, Indonesia. ©Television Trust for the Environment (TVE)
According to FAO, the high levels of malnutrition and hunger in mountain areas have much to do with the inaccessibility, complexity and fragility of mountain environments, and the extent to which mountain people are often marginalized.

In the Ethiopian highlands as well as in the Upper Rwaba watershed of Burundi, for example, inequities of land distribution coupled with population growth have increased poverty and food insecurity. In the Peruvian Andes, two of every three households don't possess enough arable land to grow the foods required to meet their nutritional needs.

Every day, mountain people face immense physical barriers - rugged terrain, poor communications systems and inadequate roads.

Heads of State and Government attending the World Food Summit, held in Rome in June 2002, recognised in particular the extent of poverty in the mountain zones and emphasised the vital role of mountain zones and their potential for sustainable agriculture and rural development in order to achieve food security.