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By Imee Charlee C. Delavin, Reporter

Hunger situation improves in 2014

Posted on January 23, 2015

THE RANKS of those who went hungry thinned last quarter -- with a significant decline tracked in Luzon -- helping to bring hunger nationwide in 2014 to the lowest point in seven years, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) said in a new report.

Half-empty or half full? A child relishes porridge provided by a nongovernment organization in Manila’s slum district of Tondo in this July 21, 2008 photo. -- AFP
But while state officials pointed to the results as proof government’s anti-poverty effort was making headway, one analyst described any improvement as “insignificant.”

Results of a Nov. 27- Dec. 1, 2014 survey among 1,800 adults nationwide -- with sampling error margins of ±2% for national percentages; ±6% each for Metro Manila, “Balance Luzon” and Mindanao; and ±3% for the Visayas -- found 17.2% of respondents, equivalent to an estimated 3.8 million families, saying they experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months. The fourth-quarter result was 4.8 points below the 22% (estimated 4.8 million families) recorded in the September survey.

While last year’s average hunger rate was the lowest annual result since 2007’s 17.9%, it was steady -- slipping just 1.2 points -- from 19.5% in 2013.

“Hunger” in the survey, SWS explained, refers to involuntary suffering as respondents were asked on such experience due to lack of food to eat. Survey questions were directed at household heads.

The 17.2% hunger rate logged in the December survey is the sum of 13.2% (or an estimated 2.9 million families) who experienced “moderate” (referring to experience of “only once” or “a few times” in the last three months) hunger and 4.1% (an estimated 888,000 families) who experienced “severe” hunger (“often” or “always” in the last three months).

Compared to the September survey, “moderate” hunger fell by 4.4 points from 17.6% (an estimated 3.8 million families), while “severe” hunger dipped by a nearly flat 0.3 of a point from 4.4% (970,000 families).

The few who did not state frequency of hunger were counted in the “moderate” category.

The hunger situation also improved across geographic areas, with Metro Manila and “Balance Luzon” showing the biggest improvement.

Hunger fell by 7.3 points in Metro Manila to 14.7% (estimated at 438,000 families) in December from 22.0% (estimated 654,000 families) in September, bringing the 2014 average in the nation’s capital to 16.0%, 7.5% below the 2013 average of 23.5% and the lowest since the 16% average recorded in 2006.

Hunger was down six points in “Balance Luzon” to 18.3% (estimated at 1.8 million families) from the 24.3% (2.4 million families) in the third quarter, although the area’s 2014 full-year 19.3% was a point above the 2013 average.

In the Visayas, hunger slipped by 2.3 points to 16.4% (estimated 690,000 families) from 18.7% (estimated 786,000 families) in the third quarter, taking the full year average to 16.6%, or 0.5 of a point above 2013’s 16.1%.

In Mindanao, hunger similarly slipped by three points to 17.3% (estimated 867,000 families) in the fourth quarter from 20.3% (estimated 1.0 million families) in the third quarter, taking the island’s full-year average to 19.2%, 2.9 points below 2013’s 22.1%.

Malacañang said addressing hunger is a central piece of the state’s poverty-reduction program.

“The administration is firmly committed to reducing poverty and hunger such that Filipinos living in the margins will attain improved quality of life,” Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma, Jr. said in a mobile text message yesterday.

Sought separately for comment, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon J. Soliman attributed the improvement to the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme -- formally called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps -- which is a centerpiece of its poverty-alleviation drive.

“Obviously [this could be attributed] to all our efforts, and also basically, I think it’s going down because our supplementary feeding has been strengthened and of course to the conditional cash transfer, [whose beneficiaries] are consistently saying that 30% of what they get goes to food. That’s over four million households,” the state’s social welfare chief said in an interview at the sidelines of the 2015 SWS Survey review in Makati City last Wednesday.

But Edmund S. Tayao, political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas, said the government cannot take much credit on this matter since “a single digit increase or decrease is not significant”.

“The CCT has been there even before this administration, and the president has been in office for five years, but the result gives you the picture that it’s not making a dent on poverty,” Mr. Tayao said in a telephone interview, referring to the 4Ps.

He said the minimal difference from the previous survey period or year shows a “temporary cure” of the country’s poverty problem.

“A single digit decrease for one doesn’t show any significant improvement,” Mr. Tayao said.

“This means that if you remove the CCT, the hunger, poverty rate will return to its flat rate in years.”

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