Monday, 23 March 2009

Philippine hunger index down


THE NUMBER OF FILIPINOS who experienced having nothing to eat has declined significantly from a record high hit last December, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

The government was quick to claim credit, saying interventions were having the desired effect. An economist agreed, but pointed out that the gains may not be sustained given downbeat expectations for the year.

The SWS survey, the results of which were made exclusive to BusinessWorld, found the proportion of families which experienced hunger at least once in the last three months down to 15.5%, equivalent to some 2.9 million households.

This was eight points better than December’s 23.7% (4.3 million families) and was similar to the level hit in March last year. It was also just three points above a ten-year average of 12.6%, the SWS said.

The independent survey research institution’s hunger measure refers to "involuntary suffering," where the respondents are asked a question which specifies going hungry due to the lack of anything to eat.

For the latest survey, 1,200 household heads — divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao — were asked "Nitong nakaraang tatlong buwan, nangyari po ba kahit minsan na ang inyong pamilya ay nakaranas ng gutom at walang makain? (In the last three months, has your family experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat?)"

Affirmative responses were then followed up with a question on how frequent the incidents were: once or a few times (classified by the SWS as moderate hunger), or often/always (severe hunger).

The decline in overall hunger in this case, the SWS said, can be traced to drops in both moderate (seven points) and severe (one point) hunger.

Moderate hunger eased to 11.1% or about two million families from December’s record high of 18.5% (3.3 million families). This was just two points higher the ten-year average of 9.3%, the SWS said. Those who did not state their frequency of hunger were counted in this category.

Severe hunger, meanwhile, dropped to 4.4% or about 810,000 families from 5.2% (940,000 families). The new figure is one point higher the ten-year average severe hunger rate of 3.4%.

Families in Mindanao and Metro Manila were the least hungry over the last three months, with total hunger the lowest in Mindanao at 11.7% (490,000 families), down 22 points from the record 33.7% in December.

In Metro Manila, the number improved to 17.3% (430,000 families) from 23.3%. Hunger also eased to 15% or about 1.2 million families from 20% in the rest of Luzon and to 19.7% or about 730,000 families from 20.7% in the Visayas.

Moderate hunger also eased substantially in Mindanao and Metro Manila, to 9.7% from a record 27.7% and to 11.7% from 18.3%, respectively. In the Visayas, it eased to 13.3% from 18% and was at 10.7% from 14% in the rest of Luzon.

"The latest moderate hunger rates remain higher than their ten-year averages for all areas except Mindanao, where its latest score of 9.7% is slightly lower than its ten-year average of 10.2%," the SWS said.

Severe hunger eased to 2% from 6% in Mindanao and to 4.3% from 6% in the rest of Luzon but went up in the Visayas, to 6.3% from 2.7%, and in Metro Manila, 5.7% from 5%.

"Except in Mindanao where the latest score of 2% is lower than its ten-year average of 4.5%, the new severe hunger rates remain higher than their ten-year averages," the SWS said.

Asked to comment, Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde said the results of the SWS survey showed the anti-hunger programs of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were "effective".

"It’s inspiring us not only to continue these programs but also to do more," he said in an interview. These include the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Food for School or Malusog na Simula Yaman ng Bansa Program, Healthy Start Feeding Program, and the Food for Work and Cash for Work Program, among others.

Conditional cash transfers (CCT) involved in the programs cover around 300,000 poor households and costs P10 billion a year. Each household must have a maximum of three children aged six to 14 to be entitled to a monthly doleout of P300 a month for 10 months. The money is given to the "most responsible adult" in the household through automated teller machine cards of state-run Land Bank of the Philippines.

"We hope this [hunger] trend continues because putting food on the tables of the poorest Filipino families is the priority of the President," Mr. Remonde said.

University of the Philippines economist Ernesto M. Pernia said CCTs had been proven effective in other countries.

"It’s apparently working here as well," he said.

The government, he added, should pump more money to pro-poor programs amid the global economic recession, noting that "It’s hard to say if this trend will continue because we have not seen the worst of 2009."

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