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A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Friday, August 24, 2007

MDG Midterm Review: Missing the target

This is a wake-up call kind of an article. Read on..... up to the last sentence.

MDG midterm review: Missing the target

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Last updated 02:05am (Mla time) 08/23/2007

The Philippines is “off the track,” it’s too soon to celebrate and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The year 2007 is midway through the 15-year-long process of achieving the so-called MDGs targeted by the United Nations, but the Philippines is still way off the expected results.

Social Watch Philippines gathered civil society groups last Aug. 15 and 16 to do a mid-term review of the MDGs and came up with conclusions and suggestions. Among them: Government is “missing and messing up the MDG targets” and citizens should therefore help monitor government performance and push for an alternative budget for the MDGs.

The Philippines is one of 189 countries that signed in 2000 the Millennium Declaration and covenant to attain the MDGs by 2015. The MDGs refer to the eight goals and 18 targets that the international community committed to attain in 15 years.

The eight goals are: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a global partnership for development.

After presentations by civil society groups working in different regions, Social Watch challenged government pronouncements that the Philippines is on track with majority of the MDGs. The government, Social Watch said, had admitted that the goals with low probability of being achieved are: universal primary education for both participation and survival, maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and access to reproductive health. The government also admitted problems in financing, regional disparities, advocacy, localization and monitoring.

Social Watch concluded that with the way things are, and judging from MDG performance in the last seven years, most of the goals will not be fully met. It cited the 2006 report of UN-ESCAP, UNDP and the Asian Development Banks that showed that the Philippines was “failing further behind” in relation to countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Social Watch International ranks the Philippines as “very low” in the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) on a global scale. BCI is based on three indicators: percent of children reaching Grade 5, under-5 mortality, and percentage of birth attended by health personnel.

Minar Pimple, deputy director of the UN’s Asia Millennium Campaign, said that globally poverty has been reduced. The number of very poor, which used to be 1.25 billion, has been reduced to 980 million. Pimple came to attend the Social Watch convention where civil society groups from different regions shared how the MDGs are faring on the ground.

Social Watch convener Leonor Briones raised questions on the reliability of data presented by the government. Briones, who once headed the Bureau of Treasury, pointed out that national data do not reflect the situation in the regions. “There is disparity between national data and regional data,” she said. “Averages are a poor measure.” She cited the example of Makati City which could pull up the averages even while the ethnic minorities remain very poor.

Citing key indicators in education such as “participation rate and cohort survival rate,” Social Watch noted that these are going down in the elementary and secondary levels. Drop-out rates are rising and the number of out-of-school youth is among the highest in Asia, higher than in Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines, Social Watch added, rates very poorly in performance scores in math when compared with other countries.

Inequality is more serious than mere poverty, Social Watch pointed out. The claims that poverty has been reduced in the Philippines, Briones said, are only in terms of national totals, which do not reflect reality. National totals are pulled up by the few relatively rich regions.

The Gini Coefficient, which is used to measure inequality, shows that inequality in the Philippines remains high. Social Watch cited the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey that showed that only 2 percent of the total number of families earn more than P500,000 a year, and only 10 families control 52.5 percent of the total market capitalization.

While the Philippines is supposed to have a sound environmental policy, translating these policies into actual programs and allocating the needed resources have been problematic. Social Watch noted inconsistencies in governance, characterized by a high turnover of environment secretaries.

Briones said that among the MDG goals, environmental sustainability remained the least funded at less than one percent of the total budget.

Social Watch criticized the government’s overemphasis on the so-called “super regions,” which was evident in President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent State of the Nation Address.

“For the past seven years,” Social Watch said, “the Sonas which are the bases for budget priorities, hardly noticed the MDGs. Attention has been focused on the super regions these past two years, while the poor are lagging behind in the ‘un-super’ regions.”

Seven years to go and there is still hope for the Philippines to get near the targets. There is need for more civil society groups (forget the incorrigible politicians) to get involved on the ground. There are NGOs that spend so much time, effort and money on political protests and propaganda while the poor they claim to defend continue to languish.

This I need to say out loud: Time also for some of these civil society groups to look into themselves and how they spend the funds entrusted to them by their funders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scaling up the advocacy

Blame the legislators

Solita Monsod / 16 August / Business World

At the 2nd National Multi-Sectoral Policy Conference on Population and Development (a mouthful), sponsored by the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (another mouthful, but called PLCPD for short), EU Ambassador Alistair McDonald observed that in the late 18th century, Scotland's population was larger than that of the Philippines — something like 1.7 million people to our 1.6 million people. Unfortunately I did not catch his comparison about the present-day population of these two countries, but certainly, we can get his drift when we see that in 2004, we had 81.6 million people while the entire United Kingdom, of which Scotland is a part, had less than 60 million. "I know Scotland is cold," said McDonald, "but it's not that cold."

At the same conference, UNFPA's Suneeta Mukherjee pointed out that four babies are born every minute (which translates to 5,760 babies born a day), while every day, 10 mothers die while giving birth. Every year, she continued, three million women get pregnant, half of which are unintended or unplanned, and one out of three of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

Congressman Edsel Lagman contributed to this distressing pile of data by noting that the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world (and the third largest Roman Catholic country), and quoted Al Gore as saying that we were losing two percent of our forests annually because of a ballooning population; while columnist Jarius Bondoc, not to be outdone, told me in private (he had not the opportunity to ask a question, as he was moderating the panel) that according to a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) document, the Philippines also has the dubious distinction of being the 19th most polluted country in the world.

Governor Bella Angara Castillo recounted that she spent her last two terms in Congress trying to pass a bill on reproductive health and family planning, but failed to do so, attributing her failure, quite frankly, to the strong lobby of the Roman Catholic Church. Undaunted by her failure in the national legislature, though, the first thing she did as governor of Aurora was to encourage her provincial board to enact a local reproductive health code, and had it passed within a year — the first province in the Philippines to enact one. She also reported that two other provinces, Ifugao and South Cotabato, have done the same thing, partly because of her advocacy. If you can't skin a cat one way, there are other ways, and she is on her soapbox, urging the LGU officials to take up the cudgels for population and development where the national officials (read the legislature) have failed.

I pointed out, when I had the floor, that for every local chief executive like Bella Angara Castillo to champion reproductive health and family planning, we also have someone like Joey Lina or Lito Atienza, who as local chief executives, vetoed any family planning or reproductive health program, due apparently to their strong religious beliefs. And even without those beliefs, the system of internal revenue allocations (IRA), which is partially based on population size, may discourage the LGU officials from actively pursuing a population management program. So while LGU cooperation in family planning would be a plus, it cannot substitute for a national policy and plan.

Neither could I resist pointing out that the PLCPD, in its 18 years of existence, had not succeeded in getting the national legislature to come up to scratch. In fact, while the population growth rate had gone down steadily (if slowly) from 3.08% in the '70s, to 2.75% at the beginning of the '80s and to 2.35% at the beginning of the '90s (when the PLCPD was organized), it seems that at the end of the '90s, if anything, the population growth rate increased — to 2.36%. Not a very good track record.

The Roman Catholic Church is the usual escapegoat for the lack of effective population management in the country. There is no doubt that the hierarchy is actively trying to prevent any but the "natural" method of birth control, but certainly at least some of the members of the clergy and other religious — like Fr. Ruben Tanseco, SJ, and the late Sister Christine Tan — have stated in no uncertain terms that this natural method is ineffective. Others have even called it a most unnatural method.

That being said, however, the main responsibility for the failure to come out with what Lagman calls a rational and comprehensive national policy on population and reproductive health (he says it is the crucial missing link in the government's human development plans), cannot be laid at the door of the Catholic hierarchy — but rather at the door of the legislators themselves. Why? Because they have been turning a deaf ear to what the Filipino people in general and the women in particular are telling them. Either that, or they have attributed to the Roman Catholic Church an influence with the voters that is nonexistent.

Only consider the results of the March 2007 Pulse Asia Survey (Ulat ng Bayan), to the effect that: 92% of Filipinos think that the ability to control fertility and plan a family is important; 89% of them think that government should provide budgetary support for modern methods of family planning including the pill, intrauterine devices, condoms, ligation, and vasectomy (only 3% think that it is not important).

Not only that: 76% say it is important for a candidate to include family planning in his/her program of action (vs. 7% who say it is not); and 75% say that they will support candidates who are in favor of a government budget for family planning (vs. 2% who will not).

There is more: these figures seem to have remained essentially unchanged for at least the past six years — Edsel Lagman claims that they have not changed substantially over the past 15 years. In other words, the Filipino people have been trying to tell their servants (the legislators) what they want, and are willing to translate that desire into votes. In particular, the women, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey of 2003, are saying that they WANT a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.5 children, while the actual TFR is 3.5 children.
If there is any proof that the wishes of the Filipino people trump the desires of the Catholic hierarchy insofar as family planning is concerned, Edsel Lagman and his daughter Crisel constitute that proof. According to Edsel, in the last elections, the Catholic hierarchy in Albay were actively campaigning against him and his daughter, precisely because of the Lagmans' views on the subject.

Both won.

So do we have idiots for legislatures? Another nail in their coffin.


Political health

Saturday, August 18, 2007 / Philippine Star

Family planning, the secretary of health declared, is the least of his department's priorities. The "overwhelming priority," said Francisco Duque, is the improvement of maternal health care to reduce the maternal mortality rate.

How does a long string of unplanned pregnancies improve maternal health? Only this administration can say. No other administration has aggressively resisted any proposal to at least make Filipino couples aware that it is possible to plan the size of their families. No other administration has openly neglected to inform women about their reproductive rights, and provide access to birth control especially to those who need it most — women from impoverished families.

Educated women living above the poverty line do not need the government for that kind of information and access. These women are fully aware of their reproductive rights and the choices they have in spacing childbirths. They do not need to wait in line at crowded government hospitals where they must share not just free wards but beds with other mothers who deliver babies almost every year throughout most of their reproductive years, until their bodies give out.

This is maternal health care, as defined by an administration whose policies have one overwhelming consideration: political survival. Through crisis after political crisis, the administration has enjoyed the support of the Catholic Church. Much of this support has to be based on the certainty — as President Arroyo herself has often declared in public — that the Church influences policy-making in government. If the Church frowns on artificial contraception, so does the administration, and it will go even one step farther: it will deprive the citizenry even of information about family planning. It may violate the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state, but everyone knows that provision is merely a best-efforts pledge.

The heretics who equate maternal health with female reproductive health will all burn in hell. Maternal health care, family planning? This is all about planning for the continued political survival of the administration.

More reports in the PhilMADE blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rise in births in RP feared with phase-out of US program

Associated Press
Last updated 00:15am (Mla time) 08/15/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government is unprepared for the phase-out of a contraceptive donation program by the United States, which could mean high population growth, maternal deaths, and abortion, family planning advocates said Tuesday.

The US Agency for International Development began phasing out its 30-year program to donate condoms and birth control in 2003 and will complete it next year.

The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promotes natural family planning in line with the stand of the dominant Catholic Church, officials said.

The Philippine Congress has allocated 1P80 million (US$3.9 million) for family planning this year, but guidelines for the funds' release to local governments have not yet been approved, private groups said.

Benjamin de Leon, head of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., said the money was needed to bring down infant and maternal mortality.

About 473,000 abortions, or a third of 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies, occur in the country yearly, said Rena Dona, a UN Population Fund official.

Two out of five women who want to use contraceptives don't have access to them, Dona told a forum on family planning.

A UN study showed the country needs about US$2 million for contraceptives yearly from 2007 to 2010 to provide them free or at subsidized prices to the poor.

Alberto Romualdez, a former health secretary, doubts the budget for family planning would be available anytime soon, and fears a rise in population.

"The problem is that the conservative elements of the church hierarchy seem to have the upper hand in getting access to the President's ear, that is why her policies reflect the extreme conservatism of those who oppose any kind of family planning," he added.

The government estimates the Philippine population has topped 88 million, with a growth rate of slightly less than two percent.

Related Articles:

RP not ready for phase-out of US contraceptive aid (Malaya)
Uncontrolled Population Growth (Manila Bulletin)

Presidents and Family Planning

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism / Philippine Star / Monday, August 13, 2007

Benjamin de Leon, who once headed the Commission on Population (Popcom) in the 1970s and is now president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, points to the irony of the country’s population policy going haywire during the term of two female presidents: Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

De Leon says the country’s population policy began in the late ’60s, when then President Ferdinand Marcos issued presidential decrees and letters of instruction creating Popcom and making population management an integral part of his economic programs.

“He understood the gravity of the population problem, that any economic gains will be lost if there’s no family planning,” says De Leon.

In 1986, the country’s population program weakened under a very devout Catholic President Aquino. But she gave then Health Secretary Alfredo Bengzon enough room to maneuver by placing Popcom under the Department of Health. The DOH pushed family planning by including it in its maternal and child health programs.

Under the Ramos administration, the population program was included in its reproductive health programs. “He addressed the problem and gave it strong support,” says De Leon.

The Protestant Ramos also prodded local government officials to craft their own program, giving out awards to the most effective ones. And he tapped the colorful “Doctor to the Barrios” veteran Juan Flavier as his health secretary. Also a Protestant, Flavier often clashed with the Catholic Church. But he won the support of the masses by popularizing his department’s health campaigns by tapping advertisers for free advise. It helped, too, that Flavier, while small in height, was big on humor.

Ramos’s successor, Joseph Estrada, had two “tutors” in family planning who explained in layman’s terms the relationship of rapid population growth to economic growth: then National Economic and Development Authority Secretary General Felipe Medalla and Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez. Estrada once said he was lucky his parents did not practice family planning because he was the eighth of 10 children. He is also known to have sired several children by women other than his wife. But with the “tutoring” he received from his economic and health planners, Estrada saw the wisdom in managing population, once even quipping to an audience to “work harder and limit your libido.”

De Leon said those in the population management sector were at first optimistic that Arroyo, being an economist, understood the importance of population and development. “No amount of development matters without population management,” he says. “She has a Ph.D. in economics. It seems she is hiding what she knows.”

He blames this on Arroyo’s fear of an subservience to the Roman Catholic Church. “We have reliable information that she has told her cabinet members not to talk about reproductive health in front of her,” says De Leon.

Some of President Arroyo’s statements regarding family planning, meanwhile, include calling natural family planning as “internationally known, scientific, practical and 99-percent effective.” She said this in a speech marking National Women’s Day in 2003, during which she also said the natural methods “are means of family planning acceptable to the Catholic Church, to which most Filipinos belong.”

“Kaya hindi kailangan maghiwalay ang simbahan at family planning (So there should be conflict between the Church and family planning),” she said.

In New York in September 2005, Arroyo told the United Nations General Assembly and world leaders who were there that she “expect(s) the United Nations to respect the deep Catholicism of the vast majority of the Filipino people.” She added that the UN fund for reproductive health that was being given to the Philippines “shall be dedicated to train married couples in a natural family planning technology, which the World Health Organization has found effective compared to artificial contraceptives.”

A few months later, however, then WHO Asian Region Representative Jean-Marc Olive was quoted as saying, “the failure rate of natural family planning is much higher than other contraceptives.” — Jaileen Jimeno

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Doing business with a ‘social conscience’

By Maria Cecilia Rodriguez
Last updated 06:24am (Mla time) 08/12/2007

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—“The challenge is to shift the paradigm of the farmers in their relationship with the land.”

This was the important lesson learned by a small entrepreneur at the helm of Nature’s Bounty, the only store in Cagayan de Oro offering organically grown food.

A decade ago, Boy Cortez urged his wife Ann and three of his friends—Pinky Baclig, Butch Alano and Apollo Pacamalan—to explore the potential of organic rice trading.

“I wanted to set up a business with a social conscience,” said Cortez, himself a farmer before becoming a professor in the Bukidnon Community School of Agriculture.

Being involved in NGO work mostly in the rural areas, Cortez had been exposed to problems confronting small farmers. He and Apollo had been engaged in training small farmers on organic farming and saw that one of the pressing concerns is the lack of marketing.

Fair share for farmers

“We used to help out small farmers by teaching them new technology in rice farming that will not degrade the land,” said Cortez. “But we also observed that farmers think twice about going organic because traders accept only the commercially grown products.”

Cortez explained that they wanted to hit three problems with one stone. “We urged them to go organic because of all its social benefits—on environment, on health and on protecting the welfare of farmers by giving them their fair share of the earnings.”

It would be the third reason that seemed most urgent for Cortez and his partners. “The farmers were at a disadvantage because it is the landowners, the traders and brokers who got the bigger share of the profits and they get buried in debts because of high cost of farm inputs and production,” he said.

After saving up a small capital, Cortez and his partners eventually set up the Bukidnon Organic Products Corporation (BOPC). “Our objective is to provide a marketing arm for organic farmers,” Cortez said.

Like all straggling businesses, BOPC in its early years had to contend with market development. “At the start, we had to rely on our friends, colleagues and the NGO circle to sell our products. We did house-to-house selling and depended on word of mouth,” Cortez said.


In 2003, the Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) approved a loan for BOPC for market development. The loan program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida), was composed of P2-million package for market development and P100,000 grant for administration and mobilization.

“It was a lifesaver for us,” said Cortez, who immediately sought the help of marketing experts to promote the organic products. A modest store outlet was constructed in the heart of the city where health-conscious citizens could drop by any time.

Immediate attention

The product name Nature’s Bounty was eventually introduced to the public and immediately earned the attention of consumers.

“The name Nature’s Bounty reflected the loving care and sacrifices of farmers to cultivate nature and produce these natural crops,” he said.

“We strived to take the products to the buying public,” said Manny de la Peña, sales and operations officer of BOPC.

“We had direct suppliers among small farmers. We bought their crops at a higher price. They were happy to have been well compensated for all the hard work they did to produce organic crops,” he added.

The leap in market development took BOPC in another dilemma. “The supply could not meet the demand. Bulk orders were coming in and we had no choice but to turn them down because we were short in supply,” said Cortez.

Women farmers

PDAP introduced them to a network-member under its PRIME project, the Malahutayang Kahisuan sa Kababaginan sa Bukidnon Inc. or Makakabus, a farmers’ association composed mostly of women. The association agreed to till 16 hectares of land for organic rice. This provided BOPC with 100 sacks of organic rice.

De la Peña recounted how they developed a mutual relationship with Makakabus. “The women are very sincere and persevering. They made sure of the crop’s integrity and strived to deliver the best products. In return we buy their products at a good price.”

He added that in time, the farmers saw the viability of organic farming because there was no need to buy pesticides and fertilizers, and thus, they get to keep all the sales income.

“The women were also good managers. They wanted to be paid in cash which was understandable,” he added. Eventually, Makakabus expanded their production area to 100 hectares.

Quality control

“All the products that we buy should pass the internal quality control system,” said Cortez, referring to the system they developed to ensure that all the products have zero pesticide and were grown only with natural farming.

BOPC accessed free training for the small farmers to enable them to learn all about natural farming. “Now the farmers produce their own compost fertilizers. And we’re also now into a new technology called ‘rice and duck integration,’” Cortez boasted.

Incentives were given to farmers whose products pass the quality control system. “For Makakabus members, 50 cents per kilo go to the association and 20 cents per kilo goes to the farmer,” Cortez said as he explained that this was part of BOPC’s way of motivating the farmers to work hard in ensuring the quality of their crops.

Going organic

De la Peña said that during the first years of BOPC, the company wallowed in huge losses. Over the years, however, sales increased at a slow but steady pace.

“We enjoy at least 53-percent increase in volume and in peso every year,” said De la Peña, while acknowledging that this is far from the millions of pesos earned by commercial rice traders in the city.

Cortez admitted there are still challenges they need to face before organic products get the overwhelming support of consumers that it deserves. “Unlike in first world countries, here we still have to educate the people of the value of organically grown food.”

Fortunately, a national network of organic advocates has been helping BOPC in getting support for capitalization and technology transfer. “These are enterprise groups who are also engaged in organic products processing and marketing,” he said.

The other challenge Cortez cited is how to keep the price of organic products at a competitive rate. “Our aim is keep up with the premium price. This can be done by having a cost-efficient production process and getting enough suppliers.”

This means farmers have a primary role in getting that organic food on the poor man’s table. “We need to convince, first and foremost, the farmers to turn to organic farming. Similarly, support from the community, the government is essential,” he stressed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dry spell impacts on poverty; cost of rice up to P1B

By Amy R. Remo
Last updated 05:21pm (Mla time) 08/09/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Damage to rice from the dry spell may amount to between P600 million and P1.14 billion or about 200,000 to 400,000 metric tons, Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said Wednesday.

“The damage refers to the costs of planting rice and may still change depending on how the weather turns out,” Yap said.

He assured the public that rice supply remained stable.

“The supply needed for 2007 is in place. What we’re trying to assure is the supply of rice for 2008, which we are now augmenting through the quick-turnaround [planting] program,” he said.

He said that by this month, the National Food Authority would have around 800,000 metric tons of rice in its warehouses.

More than 127,000 hectares of farmland have withered in the northern third of the country after lower-than-normal rainfall in June and July, the Office of Civil Defense said.

Fishponds, too

Also devastated were some 41,000 hectares of fishponds.

Worst hit by the dry spell were the regions of Ilocos, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Cagayan Valley.

Besides destroying crops, the dry spell is hampering power generation, causing price increases that have hit the poor.


Dennis Arroyo, NEDA deputy director, said the government’s 6.1-percent economic growth target for 2007 remained in place, but warned a drought could cause food price inflation and worsen poverty.

Read the full report here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

How government fights hunger

By Mahar Mangahas
Last updated 08:50pm (Mla time) 08/03/2007

STATISTICAL efforts. Last Tuesday morning, I attended the National Statistical Coordination Board's forum revealing a new "Hunger Index" done by the Interagency Task Force that it had created in 2006.

The Index turned out to be an average of: (a) the proportion of underweight children less than 5 years old; (b) the proportion of households deficient in food-energy intake; and (c) the mortality rate among children less than 5 years old. The latest period with official data available for these three components happens to be 2003.

The Task Force considered as "Low Hunger" any Index values of .256 or less. "Moderate Hunger" would be between .257 and .291, "Serious Hunger" would be between .292 and .326, and "Alarming Hunger" would be .327 and up. (The boundaries were based on a complex technique which is immaterial here.) Using equal weights, the Index for 2003 turned out to be .272, meaning "Moderate"; but using alternative weights recommended by the Task Force, it became .235, meaning "Low."

I commented at the forum that none of the Index's components was directly about hunger, and thus it ignored the National Nutrition Council's (NNC) one direct survey on hunger, in 2003 [see my column last week]. More importantly, however, the Task Force had no plans for doing the Index more frequently.

I likened this analysis of the 2003 data to archeology--normal for academics, but of little relevance to the present situation. The year 2003 was in fact the lowest or most favorable point in the SWS quarterly surveys on hunger. One relying only on official statistics wouldn't realize that hunger rose to record heights in late 2006 and early 2007.

Executive branch efforts. Also last Tuesday, in the afternoon, in Malacañang, the National Anti-Poverty Commission en banc was presented by the NNC with an Accelerated Hunger-Mitigation Program, with emphasis on the National Capital Region.

The NNC presentation started with a reasonable framework: hunger is due to insufficient food to eat, and no money to buy food. On the supply side, the program calls for "increased food production" and "enhanced efficiency of logistics and food delivery." On the demand side, it aims to "put more money in poor people's pockets," "promote good nutrition," and "manage population."

Next, the NNC presented the SWS hunger data for each of the four quarters of 2006 and the first two quarters of 2007, in percentages and projected numbers of households affected. Focusing on the record-high hunger of 22.0 percent in Metro Manila, NNC said that the possible reasons were increased prices of meat and vegetables and unemployment (higher in NCR than in all other regions). It also cited an increase in national electrical consumption and a decrease in manufacturing production and sales (though the reasoning isn't too clear to me).

There followed a long list of programs, said to be in place, for mitigating hunger. The list also showed the agencies responsible, targets, accomplishments, and details for NCR: Programang Gulayan sa Masa; Backyard Fisheries; Barangay Food Terminals; Tindahan Natin; Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) ports; Food for School Program; Supplementary Feeding (DSWD); Jobs Generation (roadside maintenance of national roads); Microfinance; Aggressive Training (of workers, by TESDA); Training on Infant and Child Feeding; Pabasa sa Nutrisyon; Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos; Responsible Parenting Movement.

How well these programs, put together, will work will ultimately be determined by forthcoming surveys on hunger. How well a single program works by itself can be gauged by tracking the interface of hunger with that program. Assessing the effectiveness of programs, either collectively or singly, is learning by doing.

But what is sorely lacking, in my view, is learning by studying past movements over time. From mid-1998 onwards, SWS has already done 37 quarterly surveys on hunger and poverty at the national level and in broad geographical areas, making it feasible for econometricians to start building empirical models of the dynamics of hunger, in association with food prices, various cost-of-living indicators, actual wages, inflation, unemployment, Gross Domestic Income, remittances from abroad, the physical weather, and other factors. Econometric models have long been used to estimate the impact of investment on employment; now they should be designed to estimate the impact of, for instance, food prices on hunger.

In this list of requisite data, what worries me the most is wages, since it is measured very poorly and irregularly. There is a bias in official statistics against regularly measuring wages (in real terms, corrected for cost of living) just as there is bias against measuring poverty and hunger, because the findings might be embarrassing.

Incidentally, I saw one interesting theory that the recent slight fall in hunger could have been due to extra purchasing power from election spending. This theory would fit SWS' severe hunger figures in June 2007 of 4.3 percent (about 105,000 households) in NCR, and 2.7 percent (210,000 households) in the rest of Luzon, compared to only 1.7 percent (60,000 households) in the Visayas, and 0.7 percent (25,000 households) in Mindanao, on the assumption that such spending was relatively skimpy in oppositionist areas. Of course, to validate the theory would require help from insiders who know how much money got spent, and where.

Read his previous related article: Hunger hasn’t fallen enough

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Poor families, poor nations

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE(The Manila Times Internet Edition)
July 31, 2007
By Marit Stinus-Remonde

Prosperous nations emanate from prosperous families, Cebu Sixth District Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz said in her welcome remarks at the Philippine Population Association’s National Conference on Life Course Perspective on Population, Nutrition and Health held in Cebu City on July 28. A family’s ability to contribute to national progress, on the other hand, “depends on how well individual members have been nourished to their fullest potential.” So children “must be nourished, educated and nurtured so that they will become responsible members of society in the future. It is in the interest of both parents and society to raise children who are similarly committed to perpetuating themselves in a responsible and rewarding manner.”

Unfortunately, two in every three Filipino begins life as an anemic. Their mothers are anemic too. Micronutrient deficiencies in children are common, not even sparing the children of the better-off families. Children belonging to families in the highest income bracket were found to be iron and calcium deficient (2003). Dr. Corazon Barba of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food, UP Los Baños, pointed out the stark irony that “coexistence of underweight child and overweight adult in same household” is a reality in 20.9 percent of households.

This shocking finding is related to another disturbing but not surprising finding that undernutrition at an early stage in one’s life significantly increases a person’s susceptibility to chronic diseases at a later stage in life. The situation is even worse for those who were underweight as children, and become overweight as adults. The ongoing “nutrition transition” from traditional foods to processed foods, which is happening in all sectors of society, is not resulting in improved diet. For instance, our “modern diet” contains more fat and more sugar than traditional diets. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is low, and level of income does not seem to be a significant factor.

Overweight, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have become common as society undergoes lifestyle and dietary changes. While overweight in itself increases risk of hypertension, Ms. Nanette Lee, senior research associate of the University of San Carlos Office of Population Studies, showed that staying overweight for a long time significantly increases risk of hypertension.

The scientific findings tell us that while indeed the country has made great progress in bringing down infant and under-5 mortality rates, and malnutrition, an unacceptable large number of our babies and children remain malnourished. In addition, these children have elevated risk of facing chronic health problems when they become adults. The negative factor of the current nutrition transition compounds the problem. Alarmed by these findings, Congresswoman Soon-Ruiz, herself a medical doctor, committed to sponsor needed legislation. The country has existing laws that mandate micronutrient fortification of certain foods, but obviously this isn’t enough.

Dr. Linda Adair of the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, disclosed that a 2005 Metro Cebu survey showed that at age 2, 65.8 percent of females and 69.2 percent of males were stunted. At birth, 11.5 percent had low birth weight and 12.9 percent were preterm, indicating that malnutrition gets worse after birth. In other words, nutrition intervention cannot wait until school age where most government-assisted feeding programs appear to take place. The audience is captive in the school, but we need to address the problem much earlier, according to Dr. Barba. Occasional feeding of lugaw and sabaw will not suffice to reverse the impact of malnutrition. More radical and comprehensive efforts are needed.

The poor nutritional status of our babies and children will eventually become an economic burden to society. The mental capacity of malnourished children will never produce the scientists and entrepreneurs that the country needs in order to progress. Hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases and other chronic ailments affect productivity, and will put an increasingly heavy burden on a health sector already in crisis. The research studies presented at the conference give the hard facts and the inevitable conclusions. From there it is up to the policymakers whether or not to address the problem. Poverty is obviously the biggest factor in malnutrition, but ignorance, too, is greatly to blame for the sad state of health of the Filipino people. From poor and ignorant families emanate poor and ignorant nations.