Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

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