The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an incredible loss of life worldwide and has posed an unprecedented challenge to public health while disrupting economies.
The pandemic and the restrictions adopted by countries to respond to it have amplified the existing vulnerabilities and marginalization of mountain communities. Mountain livelihoods – which rely mostly on agriculture, tourism and remittances – have been particularly affected by the global lockdowns. The prolonged recession that is unfolding will require special attention to ensure that the most vulnerable among mountain people – particularly women and youth – are not pushed further into poverty and deprivation, and that pressure on natural resources does not increase
The latest study on mountain peoples’ vulnerability to food insecurity found that in 2000, 44 percent of the rural mountain population, or 243 million people, was vulnerable to food insecurity. By 2017, this number had increased to 53 percent – the equivalent of 346 million people. While the number of vulnerable rural mountain people has increased in all regions, some suffered more than others. In Africa, almost 7 out of 10 were vulnerable to food insecurity, and Africa accounted for half of the increase in the number of vulnerable rural mountain people observed worldwide between 2000 to 2017. As the study only assessed the vulnerability of people living in rural areas, the total number of mountain people that do not have safe and regular access to food for healthy lives is presumably even higher, regardless of their location.
Vulnerability to food insecurity is not the only challenge mountain communities face. Mountain people are often marginalized. Natural hazards, climate change, conflicts and land degradation as well as limited access to infrastructures, markets, education and capacity building opportunities contribute to poverty and inequality, reducing mountain people’s ability to cope with food shortages and other shocks.
While all of the above-mentioned challenges are still present in mountains today and have likely worsened since the start of the pandemic, we can view the global crisis as an opportunity to build back better by improving mountain people’s livelihoods to make them more resilient while also protecting mountain environments.