MANILA — The government will spend an initial P62 million for a food aid program that seeks to support malnourished children below 2 years old and nutritionally at risk pregnant women, an official said Thursday.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 response has endorsed the rollout of the dietary supplementation program for malnourished children between 6 months to 23 months old, and identified pregnant women, IATF co-chair Karlo Nograles, who also heads the Zero Hunger Task Force, told ABS-CBN News on Wednesday.
This, following a September Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that showed a record-high figure of 30.7% or 7.6 million Filipino households that experienced involuntary hunger in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program targets to benefit at least 13,000 children this year in areas with high incidence of malnutrition and hunger, Nograles said.
Nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women, however, may have to wait until next year to be covered by the initiative.
“Mas handa po namin ma-implement ang under 2 years old, gawa nang mayroon na po kaming naihanda na listahan ng identified beneficiaries. ‘Yong pregnant women ay kailangan pa po natin mag-survey at mag-identify,” Nograles said.
(We are prepared to implement the program for children under 2 years old since we already identified the beneficiaries. The pregnant women for the program, however, still needs to be surveyed and identified.)
“Mukhang mas maraming pamilyang Pilipino ang nagugutom ngayon, kaya ma-a-assume mo rin na ang stunted at wasted na mga kabataan natin ay aakyat din,” he added.
(It looks like more Filipino families have been experiencing hunger, that’s why one can only assume that more children would have stunted growth.)
He also said the government is still looking for sources of funding so that the food assistance program would be able to cover more beneficiaries next year.
“They’re preparing the groundwork na now... We wanna start it already by maybe [the] last week of October or first week of November,” he added.
He said they are eyeing to provide aid to around 117,000 identified children suffering from stunting and wasting, and an estimated 250,000 nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women in 32 priority provinces. But this would need a budget allocation of at least P600 million.
Among the priority areas are Bukidnon, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Camarines Sur, he said.
He said the government is already working out to expand the initial P62 million funding through the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
Infants in need of dietary supplementation were identified through the National Nutrition Council’s (NNC) Operation Timbang Plus, an annual weighing and height measurement of all preschoolers.
Under the program, stunted and wasted infants will receive nutrient-dense food products formulated by the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute for a period of 180 days in one year. The program for nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women, meanwhile, is for a period of 90 days.
“Ideally, if you wanna cover the 32 priority provinces, we need about P600 million to cover all stunted or wasted children. Pero kung anuman ang maibigay na budget sa NNC, mag-a-adjust ang NNC (But whatever budget can be given to the NNC, it will adjust),” he noted.
Child rights group Save the Children welcomed the anti-hunger initiative, but said the government should also take into consideration the life span of supplied food for families who do not have refrigerators or places to properly store their food.
“Dapat ang ilalagay mo sa food packs, ‘yung talagang magagamit nila kaagad, kasi paano kung wala silang refrigerator? Tapos maraming mga gulay na kailangan mo lutuin?” said Dr. Amado Parawan, the group’s advisor.
(What you should put in food packs are those they can readily use because what if they don't have a refrigerator? Then there's a lot of vegetables you have to cook?)
Parawan also hoped the government would keep the program sustainable, underscoring the importance of proper nutrition in the brain development of children below 2 years old.
Nograles, meanwhile, said that apart from the standards set to qualify for the program, local and national government agencies would regularly monitor the beneficiaries’ progress. -- Report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News