Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Friday, October 19, 2007

World Poverty Day is our Day

Opinion /Ma. Ceres Doyo / Human Face / Philippine Daily Inquirer

First posted 02:18:58 (Mla time) October 18, 2007 / Ma. Ceres P. Doyo / Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--We who are not on the extreme side of the economic divide, we who are fortunate to have a little more than the have-nots, but who have so much less than those who talk six to eight zeros in boardrooms and on golf courses, have no reason to feel that there is nothing important or impactful for us to do.

We are many, in fact, we are the majority, and we have the power. And I do not mean only on election day. If only we could bring forth that power. If only we knew how.

Yesterday was the United Nation’s official World Poverty Day. It was not a day to be celebrated, but rather to be observed. It was a day to remind the world that a third of the human citizens of this planet -- the “have-nots” -- could be dying because of hunger, disease and disasters at this very moment because of the neglect, greed and ignorance of the few “haves” who have too much in their hands and those who have the power, might and numbers to change the order of things but don’t.

For the two billion people who live on less than $2 (or about P90) a day, every day is poverty day. Half of them live on less than $1 a day. The UN’s official day -- they’ve never heard of it, and for them it doesn’t matter when it is.

Seven years ago, in 2000, 189 nations committed themselves to cut that grim figure in half. Four years later in 2004, the figures still looked grim, swinging from hope to despair to hope.

More than 100 million children were still out of school. Each year, about 10 million children die before their fifth birthday. Some 40 million people are living with HIV and AIDS of which five million die each year.

UN figures remain grim. Every day, about 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes. This means one human being every three and a half seconds, with children being the most likely to perish.

Is there not enough food to go around? Oh, but there is enough food to feed the teeming millions. The problem is that there are millions who are trapped or held hostage by poverty and can’t get to where the food is because they have no money, they have no work, they can’t go anywhere. And when they are further weakened, they become even poorer, sicker and less likely to find work and get to where the food is. They can’t even grow the food they must eat.

Without intervention from outside, they are trapped in a spiral that goes further down. This spiral has to be broken. Doing this is not easy, it is not going to be broken by simply pumping aid money or building infrastructure. Development aid without regard for the human factor will eventually fizzle out.

There are many ways of dealing with the poverty spiral or breaking it softly, so to speak. Development workers would often speak about “food for work” programs that would enable jobless adults to get up slowly and build for themselves the infrastructure that would help them get out of the mire. And for children, there is the “food for education” where children are fed while they are in school.

Of what use are a school and a good curriculum (and broadband networks) if the students have addled brains because they are malnourished? They wouldn’t be able to get to the school house because they suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiency, their lips and gums are sore, their bodies are ravaged by infection, etc., etc.

One small step at a time. A global problem could find some local solutions that would mean the difference from here to there. And the poor themselves, if they are not yet so crippled by disease and hunger, could do a lot for themselves, with a little help, of course.

The theme for the 20th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (that’s the official name) is “People Living in Poverty as Agents of Change.” This suggests recognition of the poor people’s role in their own emancipation.

There are as many stories on this as there are many poor families. I have seen stories unfold around me. I have seen failures and successes. I have seen crossovers from despair to hope.

It is difficult for a journalist to remain on the fringes. I have always needed to savor what it is like, to be there, to sometimes put in something where my mouth is. But one must forget that something will ever come back. Oh, but something does, but not in the way we might expect.

And then, one must remember that local efforts are not everything. On the occasion of World Poverty Day, Jubilee South (a global network of social movements, including those from the Philippines) has issued a reminder that one of the biggest challenges for the global debt movement today is to correct the perception that the debt problem has largely been solved by the debt relief programs offered by lenders in recent years.

“The majority of the peoples of the South continue to suffer from the injustice and staggering burden of debt. It is a burden not only because of the huge amounts of debt payments in the face of poverty and deprivation. It is unjust not only because our people did not benefit from much of the debts they are forced to pay. The debt is also used as an instrument to ensure that our economies generate profits for global corporations and meet the requirements of global markets instead of providing for our needs.

“We continue to struggle for freedom from debt. We struggle not only to wipe out the outstanding debt claim from our countries but to transform the structures, the institutions, and the relations of power that has led to the accumulation of unjust and illegitimate debt.”

Poverty has a human face, a name, a voice that we know very well. We need not journey far. We who are un-poor and un-wealthy can do a lot.

New national hunger record belies MDG achievement

Posted by: Isa Lorenzo on 17 October 2007 at 2:48 pm

MIDWAY to the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Arroyo government reported last week that the country is well on its way to achieving its commitments, highlighted by a drastic reduction in the proportion of Filipino families living in extreme poverty.

Yet a week prior to the government declaration, the results of the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey seemed to negate this rosy picture as a new national hunger record of 21.5 percent of Filipino households — or about 3.8 million families — was found to have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the last three months.

The new record, up from 19 percent tallied in February and November 2006, is almost ten points above the 11.8 percent average in 38 quarterly SWS surveys from mid-1998 to the present. Hunger declined briefly to 14.7 percent last June. A survey conducted last year by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), according to SWS President Mahar Mahangas, already revealed a national hunger rate of 19 percent.

With even more Filipinos now going hungry, Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP)-Philippines says the government’s six-month campaign against hunger has proved worthless.

Declaring a war against hunger, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the release of P1 billion in March to fund school feeding and food for work programs, barangay food terminals, and Tindahan Natin and Gulay ng Masa projects to address hunger in the depressed areas of Metro Manila and several provinces. The hunger response ended last September.

Despite this, hunger has remained on the rise.

“This just shows how ineffective the government hunger intervention programs are,” said GCAP, a local network of nongovernment and people’s organizations which is part of the biggest anti-poverty alliance in the world. “We said it in March and we say it again, more strategic solutions, rather than palliatives or stop-gap solutions, are needed to fight worsening hunger.”

Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty is one of the eight MDGs. Extreme poverty refers to the proportion of families living below the subsistence or food threshold. The Philippines is said to be on track in meeting its target of halving the proportion of people below the food threshold. As of 2003, the proportion of people with incomes below the subsistence threshold was 13.5 percent (10.2 percent of all Filipino families), down from 24.3 percent (20.4 percent of families) in 1991.

However, the government uses the subsistence threshold in measuring extreme poverty, instead of the $1 per day international benchmark. The present subsistence threshold is pegged at P40.73 per person per day, with P27.36 allotted to food. This means that one would only need P9 per meal.

“P41 is not enough for any person to live a decent life with,” GCAP said. “The government is mocking us all by saying so.”

For these “ridiculously low” figures, several civil-society groups have thus tended to believe that poverty incidence is widely underestimated.

Official poverty statistics are also suspect, pointed out GCAP’s Ma. Victoria Raquiza. “To begin with, the comparability of the official poverty estimates of the National Statistical Coordination Board from 1990 to 2003 is undermined by the 1992 and 2003 major methodology changes,” Raquiza said. Comparisons with earlier data sets of the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) have been deterred by the methodology change in 2003 whose implementation was applied retroactively only up to 1997 figures.

Raquiza said FIES data also underrepresent the poor since these exclude the ambulant poor, or families without “official and permanent residence.”

Worsening hunger has been caused by a decrease of purchasing power and rising unemployment and inflation, according to a PCIJ report. Food takes up 60 to 70 percent of a person’s income, thus unemployment and underemployment would greatly affect one’s ability to buy food.

In 2004, the 5.8 percent food inflation rate was higher than the 5.5 percent overall inflation rate. It was also the highest from 2000-2004. “With the double whammy of higher unemployment and underemployment, as well as higher inflation, hunger will inevitably increase,” said Agriwatch Chairperson Ernesto OrdoƱez.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Population Growth, Poverty, MDGs

Rapid population growth barrier to reaching MDGs
10/16/2007 11:59 AM /

The Philippines's rapid population growth rate is one of the primary reasons hindering the country from attaining the millenium development goals, as it dilutes the impact of economic growth and policy improvements, a joint report by the government and the United Nations showed.

In a statement, the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc., said that the Philippines, with a growth rate that is one of the highest in Asia, still has a long way to go before it makes noteworthy progress on the eight MDGs.

"Among the challenges and priorities for action that must be viewed with urgency is the rapid population growth," the PLCPD said, quoting the Philippines Midterm Progress Report on MDGs jointly released by the UN and the National Economic and Development Authority.

"Rapid population growth rate is closely linked to persistent poverty as it reduces overall economic growth and prospects for poverty reduction. It strains the environment as competition for scarce resources and public goods expands," the report continues.

If the rapid growth of the Philippines's population is not addressed, PLCPD said the country's population would hit 102.55 million by 2015, a number sure to tax the Philippine economy and environment. However, PLCPD said that as of now, the government is doing very little to address this problem.

“The Philippines, along with 191 member states of the United Nations, signed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000. Eight years after, the country still lacks a comprehensive national law that would address our population management problem," said Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the PLCPD.

San Pascual said that the current administration has instead let local government units shoulder the burden of implementing policy on population and reproductive health. "However, without sufficient budget allocation from the (national) government, any LGU efforts will not be sustained," San Pascual said.

There are eight MDGs that should be achieved by 2015: halving extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

However, a report by the Asian Development Bank, has showed that no developing country in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, will be able to meet all millennium development goals by 2015.

“The region still faces quite a challenge. Most of the developing countries can point to success in some of the goals, but none is on course to achieve all of them," the regional lender's The Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2007 report said.

Philippine hits and misses

The ADB said that among the 21 criteria under seven MDGs, the Philippines is either slow or showing no progress in nine categories. There are eight MDGs: halving extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development, by the target date of 2015-- but the ADB study did not release a rating for the global partnership goal.

The multilateral lender noted that the Philippines is slow in reducing the number of its population living in $1 a day, reducing the number of underweight children, providing sufficient water, and improved sanitation both in rural areas.

The Philippines, the ADB report said, is either showing no progress or even regressing in the MDG criteria of number of primary education enrollees, number of those able to reach 5th grade, forest cover, carbon dioxide emission and water accessibility in urban areas.

However, the ADB also said the Philippines is an early achiever in the following MDG criteria: primary completion rate, gender primary, gender secondary, gender tertiary, tuberculosis prevalence rate, turbeculosis death rate, increasing the number of its protected areas, and ozone-depleting CFCs consumption.

Besides this, the ADB lauded the Philippines for making progress in reducing under-five mortality, infant mortality, people with HIV, and improving urban sanitation.


Reminders for our war against poverty

ROSES & THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces / Tuesday, October 16, 2007 / Philippine Star

Tomorrow, October 17, marks the 20th anniversary celebration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. United Nations’ theme for this year is “People living in poverty as agents of change.” It is ironic that many countries all over the world are developing and experiencing economic growth, yet destitution and poverty still exist. Global trend forecasts show this to continue in the year 2020 particularly in East Asian countries. Driving forces are population growth, the unabated abuse of natural resources and if left unchecked, a possible pandemic.

Readers may say this is particularly true in our country where the common opinion is that the economic advancement being claimed by the present administration cannot be felt where many still languish in hunger and poverty. A Social Weather Station report in March 2007 indicates that around 17 million Filipinos or 19% of the population are hungry, while 45 million Filipinos or 53% of families saw themselves as poor. The positive news, according to the recent UN report, is that the number of people living in extreme poverty in our country is decreasing, with the proportion of families below the poverty threshold falling to 24.4 percent in July this year, compared to the same month in 1990. The same report, which will be released worldwide this October, says the Philippines’ poverty alleviation targets are “on track” and that statistics point to the fact that economic gains having trickled down to the grassroots.

The fact remains, however, that more than 50 percent of the labor force or roughly 16.1 million Filipino workers, mostly unskilled workers and agricultural laborers earn P5,000-8,000 (P33-53 per person per day for a family of 5), an income level that hovers around the 2007 poverty threshold pegged at P40 per person per day, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). The workers’ low income, combined with high prices of goods and services, fuels poverty and hunger in the country.

More than 10 million people live in Metro Manila alone. This means 10% of the total population live in the metropolis. We can just imagine the congestion of people and establishments in an area of 636 square kilometers, where the density rate is 15,700 people per square kilometer. Population grows as more people move from the rural to urban areas in search of economic opportunities and of course due to a natural increase in number of births. This rapid urbanization leads to the lack and deterioration of existing resources, which includes the lack of clean drinking water, water shortage, sanitation and garbage problems, air and noise pollution, to name a few.

There are over one million Filipino street children at present. Starving children are victims and they should get top priority in the aspect of education and health.

The future of our country in a highly globalized economy will depend on its greatest resources, the Filipino people. We must involve the poor and the disadvantaged if meaningful change is to be realized. For a people who work together with one mind and spirit, for the future of their children, winning this war against poverty will not be difficult.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Poorest Pinoys spendng MORE, earning LESS

By Cai U. Ordinario
Reporter/Business Mirror/October 10

HIGHER prices have taken their toll on the poor. The poorest families are now spending more and earning less, according to the latest preliminary results of the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) released by the National Statistics Office (NSO) Tuesday.

The FIES showed that poor families, or those belonging to the bottom 30-percent income group, spent P153,000 last year but only earned P148,000.

While these figures are higher than the P125,000-worth income and P128,000-worth expenditures in 2003, the difference is higher in 2006 at P5,000 a year than in 2003’s P3,000 a year.

The NSO said for every P100 spent by these economic sectors in 2006, P59 went to food, compared with only P48 in 2003. Consequently, there was a decrease in the share of other expenditure items like rent, which dropped to 9 percent from 12.7 percent.

Macroeconomically, the upper 70 percent earned P2.73 trillion and spent P2.3 trillion for a savings of P437 billion in 2006 compared with the
bottom 30 percent that earned P258 billion and spent P267 billion, or a deficit of P9 billion.

The Gini coefficient measured in the FIES was estimated at 0.4564 in 2006, slightly lower than the 2003 ratio of 0.4605 .

The Gini coefficient provides a measure of income inequality within a population and ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating perfect income equality among families, and 1 indicating absolute income inequality.

The good news, if good news it is, is that, “the share to the total income of families belonging to the 10th decile exhibited a slight decrease, from 36.3 percent in 2003 to 35.9 percent in 2006. The gap in family income between the families belonging to the 10th decile and those in the first decile had narrowed slightly.”

The FIES is a nationwide survey of households undertaken every three years by the NSO. It is the main source of data on family income and expenditure, which include among others, levels of consumption by item of expenditure as well as sources of income in cash and in kind.

The number of households, or families, for the 2006 FIES was estimated using the 2000 Census of Population and Housing (CPH)-based population projections and information from the 2000 CPH on the average household size by province.

Report notes Philippines' slow progress in reducing poverty

BusinessWorld / 9 October / Bernadette S. Sto. Domingo

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, including the Philippines, are not on track to achieving all United Nations-led goals of cutting poverty in half by 2015 — or the socalled The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — a report released yesterday said.

For the Philippines, in particular, efforts to reduce poverty and hunger have been slower than some of its neighbors, although still better than the Asian average.

The report, “The MDGs: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2007,” said “most of the developing countries can point to success in some of the goals but none is on course to achieve all of them.”

The Philippines, for its part, “has given high priority to achieving the MDGs,” report author Shiloh Chatterjee told reporters. “The Philippines is making tremendous effort to achieve these goals. Among countries in Asia, it’s one of those who have given high priority to focusing on MDGs. What’s necessary is local governments are supported in terms of policies, institutions, and capacities.”

The eight MDGs — targeted for achievement by 2015 — formed a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s nations and leading global development institutions. The eight MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/ AIDS malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, as well as develop a global partnership for development.

The report, produced through a partnership among the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Program and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said the eighth development goal, which seeks to create a global partnership for development, calls for enhanced market access.

“The best way to provide additional momentum would be to conclude the Doha Development Round which would add legal certainty to least developed countries’ duty and quota-free access to developed-country markets,” the report said.

The Philippines has made slow progress in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, cutting its 1990 poverty rate of 19.8% to just 14.8% in 2004. While Asia’s average poverty rate fell to 17% from 32%, China was able to slash its poverty rate to 9.9% from 33%. “The Philippines has traveled half the distance towards the target [of 9.9%] over the period… it is slowly moving towards the target, but will come very close to it by 2015,” the report said.

The country made no progress at all in the area of achieving universal primary education with a decrease in its primary enrolment ratio to 94.4% in 2003 from 96.5% in 1991. The number of children reaching grade five also dropped to 71.5% from 75.3%. It also lagged behind in the area of ensuring environmental sustainability, while it registered slow progress in providing improved drinking water resources and sanitation facilities to rural areas.

In the area of reducing underfive mortality and infant mortality as well as cutting HIV prevalence, the country remains on track, the report said.

But the Philippines has already achieved the goals of promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Mr. Chatterjee said, “I’ve seen a lot of evidence that the Philippines is giving very high importance to education and health.”

“Fast, effective delivery of public goods and services is a demonstration by a government of its commitment to reach the very neediest,” ADB chief economist Ifzal Ali said in an interview. “This is, to my mind, an acid test… Otherwise, everything is just rhetoric; nothing is real.

A progress report on MDGs, part of a National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) report to World Bank executives last Sept. 17, showed the Philippines having high chances of achieving four MDGs by 2015. These are: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring that families have access to safe drinking water.

But NEDA admitted the Philippines had problems in achieving universal primary education, reducing maternal mortality and increasing use of contraceptives. The Philippines committed to the MDGs — quantitative targets designed to improve human conditions — in September 2000. The goals are incorporated in the UN Millennium Declaration, which targets the reduction of extreme poverty by 2015. — Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo

Saturday, October 6, 2007

HUNGER at a record peak


HUNGER HAS HIT A FRESH PEAK nationwide, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed, with the national percentage of families having experienced nothing to eat rising to a high of 21.5%.

The survey results, made exclusive to BusinessWorld, showed a dramatic reversal of gains noted in June when hunger fell to 14.7% from the previous record of 19%, notched in February 2007 and November 2006.

The national proportion of 21.5%, the SWS said, was equivalent to 3.8 million families and was almost ten points above the 11.8% average for the 38 hunger surveys it had conducted quarterly starting mid-1998.

The Palace immediately disputed the results, saying nothing significant had happened in the last three months to warrant the spike.

An economist, meanwhile, warned of the human resource impact, particularly with respect to schoolchildren’s school performance.

The independent research institution said new record highs in the Balance of Luzon (outside Metro Manila) and the Visayas were behind the overall national deterioration.

A total of 1,200 respondents were polled in the latest survey on involuntary hunger.

Household heads were the subject of the poll, which used the phrase "nakaranas ng gutom at wala kayong makain" or "experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat."

The SWS conducted face-to-face interviews with 300 household heads each in Metro Manila, the Balance of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao from 240 geographical spots.
The margin of error was plus or minus 3% for national percentages and plus or minus 6% for regional percentages.

Moderate hunger, referring to those who experienced it "only once" or "a few times", rose to a record 17.4% in September from 12.5% in June. Counted in this category were those who did not state their frequency of hunger.

Severe hunger — meaning it was experienced "often" or "always" — rose to 4.1% from 2.2% in June. It remained, however, below the record of 6% notched in March 2001.

Overall hunger rose in all parts of the country except Metro Manila, where it went down to 17.7% from the record high of 22% in June.

In the rest of Luzon, the percentage went up by 10 points to 22.3% from 12%, while in the Visayas, it jumped by nine points to 21.7% from 12.3%, with both areas notching fresh peaks. In Mindanao, it rose by four points to 22% from 17.7%.

Moderate hunger also declined in Metro Manila (12% from 17.7%) but went up in the rest of Luzon (18% from 9.3%), the Visayas (17.3% from 10.7%), and Mindanao (19.7% from 17%).

Severe hunger went up in all areas: Metro Manila, 5.7% from 4.3%; Balance of Luzon, 4.3% from 2.7%; Visayas, 4.3% from 1.7%; and Mindanao, to 2.3% from a record-low of 0.7%.

"Hunger declined in Metro Manila because the six-point decline in Moderate Hunger outweighed the one-point increase in Severe Hunger," the SWS said.

Presidential Management Staff director-general Cerge M. Remonde said he had reservations about the survey results.

"The gap is large considering that no significant event or calamity that happened in the past months," he said in a phone interview.

"If, for instance, there were typhoons, then that would have been understandable."
But he said the survey could be used by administration in its hunger mitigation programs.

"This could help us determine the areas where we can focus our anti-hunger efforts. We will ask the Department of Health National Nutrition Council to look into this so we can channel our efforts in provinces where many families are hungry."

Anti-hunger programs such as the food-for school-program and the Gulayan ng Bayan which encourages backyard farming, Mr. Remonde said, are continuously being implemented.

"We have also directed our institutions to be more aggressive in lending so the people can start a small business which would enable them to earn income so they can buy food," he added.

Cielito F. Habito, a former Socioeconomic Planning secretary and now economics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, warned that the failure to address hunger problem would impact on human resources.

"For instance, if children are hungry, it will have an impact on their mental capacity and their schooling. Thus, the quality of our human resources would be affected," he said.

"The government’s plan to focus on school feeding is strategic as this would also make it attractive for children to go to school. But these are never enough because the incidence of hunger goes beyond the school," he added.

The government, Mr. Habito said, must strengthen its job-generation programs as hunger is usually caused by poverty and unemployment.

"We need more employment generating economics. One way is to develop MSMEs (micro-small-medium enterprises). They must have better access to finances," he said. — ADBR/BUSINESSWORLD