Philippines slipping into hunger trap – SWS

By David Dizon,

Posted at Jul 21 2010 07:34 PM | Updated as of Jul 29 2010 09:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is in danger of falling into a hunger trap after over 20% of Filipino families said they experienced hunger for three consecutive quarters, a new survey revealed Wednesday.

The new survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS), conducted last June 25-28, showed that 21.1% of the country, or an estimated 4 million Filipino families, went hungry at least once from April to June.

Of that number, at least 780,000 families said they went hungry "often" or "always" compared to only 530,000 families in the first quarter.

SWS president Dr. Mahar Mangahas said the new hunger statistics show that nothing significant has happened to address the hunger problem for a long period of time.

"[Hunger] at 21.1 percent is simply terrible. It's been over 20% now for three quarters in succession. In fact, even between 15-19% is very bad and 10-14% is quite bad. When we started this in 1998, it was only 9%," he said.

He said hunger levels reached a record-high 24% (4.4 million families) in December 2009, dipped slightly to 21.2% (4 million families) in March and is now at 21.1% in June.

SWS surveys showed that hunger levels in the country have fluctuated above 10% at least nine times from July 1998 to March 2004.

Mangahas said hunger levels dipped to 5.1% in September 2003. However, hunger levels have stayed above 10% since June 2004, or the start of President Arroyo's second term in office.

According to Mangahas, the current trend on hunger levels means that the Philippines will be unable to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

"The MDG on halving poverty is definitely not going to be met when the trend is moving towards the wrong direction," he said.

Hunger and poverty

Mangahas said hunger and poverty are interconnected since the poor are often the ones who go hungry. He, however, noted that some people who actually experience hunger because they having nothing to eat sometimes don't think they are poor "because they see people who are much worse off."

"The standard of living has also fallen because there are quite a lot of people who are hungry sometimes and yet they think they are not poor," he said. 

The SWS president said the new hunger statistics should be used as a guide by the new Aquino administration in solving the hunger problem.

"I don’t know his ideology but I hope he stops paying attention to Gross National Product or Gross Domestic Product and look directly at what’s happening to the poor and be guided," he said.

He said the government could also conduct its own study on tracking hunger and poverty that is not centered on the country's economic condition. "By simply focusing forever on gross national product, they will be led in the wrong direction," he said.

Conditional cash transfer vs hunger

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, said President Aquino will address the hunger problem in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) next week. He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development will identify the poorest families most in need of the money through its conditional cash transfer program.

"That will be addressed by the SONA. In fact, there will be poverty alleviation programs that will be taken up. One of them, which has already been stated by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, is the conditional cash transfer program," he said.

Budget Secretary Butch Abad earlier said he will redirect P3.3 billion in funds for the food-for-school program to the conditional cash transfer program.

Soliman earlier said her office has received negative feedback on the food-for-school program "in terms of ensuring that the rice gets to the families that are supposed to be served."

She cited studies conducted by World Bank and the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) that showed substantial " leakage" or the amount of rice believed to be deviated from the rightful recipients.