Fighting famine, holding off hunger
MANILA, Philippines – Food security in the Philippines has been improving encouragingly, according to two leading authorities during a Rappler Talk on June 29.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman cited a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that revealed only 13% or 3 million people experienced involuntary hunger, the lowest it has been in 10 years.
World Food Programme (WFP) country director Praveen Agrawal also pointed out that hunger alleviation has improved due to strategic work in advocacy and awareness-raising, seen particularly in the ability to focus on more nutrition-specific efforts.
However, he stressed the need to solve malnutrition among children.
According to the latest National Nutrition Survey of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), 19.9% of children under 5 years old suffer from undernutrition. (READ: What’s the nutritional status of Filipinos?)
“If we do not reach and solve the problem of nutrition before the age of two, then the damage is irreversible and we will have continuing generations where the cycle would continue,” Agrawal said.
He added that if the country will be able to address this problem, it would mean “improved access to health, improved access to social services." (READ: Gov’t program to feed over 2.5M kids under 5 in 2015)
Meanwhile, Soliman said that support programs for teenage mothers continue. The DSWD has been collaborating with the Department of Health (DOH) in conducting youth development sessions that will ensure education for the poor, particularly on matters of reproductive health.
Similarly, DSWD teamed up with the DOH in an initiative to promote breastfeeding and wet nursing. (READ: What’s keeping the Philippines from exclusive breastfeeding?)
Soliman said DSWD also partnered with the Department of Agrarian Reform to give beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or the conditional cash transfer program, a small piece of land for bio-intensive gardening. In cities, the initiative provides for appropriate gardening, utilizing containers, and recycled bottles. (READ: Feeding the mind and body)
In achieving food security and nutrition, both Soliman and Agrawal see community-driven development as necessary.
Soliman cited the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services. This program, started in 2003 and intensified under the current administration, ensures that it is the people who decide on their needs and allocation of money. The funds do not go through the local government units and the DSWD but to carefully selected communities.
According to Soliman, the program has seen high success, with just “1% complaint about graft.”
While the matter of political commitment seems to have no assurance because of the upcoming national elections, Soliman stressed that the guarantee “is in the hands of the people.”
The communites, according to Soliman, have experienced governance that is “accountable, transparent, has shown budget reform, and allocated significant amounts of funds for social service, and infrastructure that had really been felt and seen by the people.”
But Agrawal warned that if public officials "do not listen to the demands of the people, no matter what change comes, it will never be sustainable in time.”
“The ultimate objective is that [hunger alleviation] needs to be inclusive, holistic, integrated,” he said, stressing that political commitment is necessary and must involve all sectors of society to foster inclusive growth.
“[Hunger alleviation] needs to be multi-sectoral. It’s not one change that’s going to do it,” Agrawal stressed.
“Nutrition is not just health. It’s public health [including] water, sanitation, shelter – they’re all elements of nutrition.” – Rappler.com
Frances Sayson is an intern for MovePH, Rappler's citizen journalism arm.