Hunger keeps rising, poverty also up -- SWS

BusinessWorld

Posted at Apr 08 2011 09:02 AM | Updated as of Apr 09 2011 07:24 AM

MANILA, Philippines - More Filipinos are going hungry and consider themselves poor, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) said in a new report, the details of which highlight the challenges facing the Aquino administration.

A March 4-7 poll, the results of which were made exclusive to BusinessWorld, had 20.5% of respondents -- or an estimated 4.1 million families -- claiming to have gone hungry at least once in the past three months.

This was up from the 18.1% (an estimated 3.4 million families) recorded in November 2010 when the rate again began climbing from that year’s 15.9% low.

The result is also almost seven points above the 12-year average of 13.8%, the SWS said.

Last month’s poll, moreover, found that 51% -- an estimated 10.4 million families -- consider themselves mahirap or poor, two points up from November’s 49%. Also, 40% (8.1 million families), consider themselves food-poor, higher than the 36% notched in the previous survey.

A senior government official said external shocks likely contributed and added that the Aquino administration remained committed to its promise of alleviating poverty.

The rise in overall hunger, the SWS said, resulted from increases for both moderate and severe hunger. The area comprising Balance Luzon was the hardest hit, with hunger rates hitting record highs.

Nationwide, moderate hunger -- experiencing it only once or a few times -- rose to 15.7% (an estimated 3.2 million families) from 15% (2.8 million families) in November. Severe hunger -- experiencing it often or always -- increased to 4.7% (950,000 families) from 3.1% (588,000 families).

By area, overall hunger hit a record 25% (2.2 million families) in Balance Luzon from 18.3% (1.5 million families). The new rate topped the previous high of 22.3% in September 2007, and offset declines in Mindanao (16.7% from 18%), Metro Manila (20.7% from 21.7%) and the Visayas (14.7% from 15.3%).

Broken down, moderate hunger hit a record 18.7% in Balance Luzon, overtaking record of 18.1% in March 2010. This also cancelled out improvements in the Visayas (9.7% from 12.7%), Metro Manila (16.7% from 17.7%) and Mindanao (14.7% from 16%).

"The new moderate hunger rates are still higher than their 12-year averages for all areas, except in the Visayas where the latest ... is lower than the 12-year average of 10.2%," the SWS said.

Severe hunger also hit a record high of 6.3% in Balance Luzon, surpassing the 6% hit in December 2008. The rate stayed at 4% in Metro Manila and at 2% in Mindanao but rose to 5% from 2.7% in the Visayas.

The latest rates were also higher than the 12-year averages for all areas except for Mindanao where it is some two points lower.

Self-rated poverty, meanwhile, rose in all areas except Metro Manila, where it fell 10 points to 34% from 44%. This, however, was overwhelmed by an eight-point increase in the Visayas (61% from 53%), a five-point gain in Mindanao (49% from 44%), and by a three-point rise in Balance Luzon (54% from 51%).

It rose by four points to 59% in rural areas and by three points to 45% in urban areas.

Self-rated food poverty fell by four points to 24% in Metro Manila but increased elsewhere: 12 points to 51% in the Visayas, four points to 42% in Balance Luzon and by four points to 38% in Mindanao.

The self-rated poverty threshold -- the monthly budget that poor households need in order not to consider themselves poor in general -- remained sluggish despite inflation.

Compared to the previous quarter, the median poverty threshold for poor households stayed at P15,000 in Metro Manila, P9,000 in Balance Luzon and P8,000 in the Visayas; it rose to P7,000 from P5,000 in Mindanao. These amounts had been surpassed in the past in those areas, the SWS said.

As of March 2011, the median food-poverty threshold for poor households in Metro Manila fell back to P8,000 after a record-high P9,000 in the previous quarter. It went up to P5,000 from P4,000 in Balance Luzon, stayed at P4,000 in the Visayas, and rose to P3,850 from P3,000 in Mindanao. These amounts had also been surpassed in the past, the SWS said.

As a measurement of belt-tightening, the SWS said Metro Manila’s median poverty threshold of P15,000 in Metro Manila was barely above the P10,000 in 2000 even though the Consumer Price Index (CPI) had risen by over 60%. The P15,000, it said, is equivalent to just P8,886 in base year 2000 purchasing power and is a throwback to living standards of over fifteen years ago.

At the March 2011 cost of living, the 2010 median of P10,000 is equivalent to P16,880, and deducting the current P15,000 means households cut living standards by P1,880.

In terms of food poverty, food-poor Metro Manila households tightened belts by P42.

Sought for comment, Social Welfare Undersecretary Celia C. Yangco said: "During the last quarter, we’ve experienced a lot of shocks ... such as the troubles arising in the Middle East ... we’ve also seen an increase in food prices over the past quarter."

She noted, however, that the government was continuing to undertake "sustainable livelihood" schemes such as conditional cash transfers and the KALAHI-CIDSS community development program.

The SWS polled 1,200 adults nationwide for the latest survey, which used sampling error margins of ±3% for national and ±6% for area percentages.