Where does the PH stand in its fight vs hunger?

Fritzie Rodriguez

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The UN Millennium Development Goals targets an end to extreme hunger and poverty by 2015. Time is running out.

PH VS Hunger. How far have we come in our ongoing fight against hunger? Figures from the past few years suggest that the country's battle against hunger might go beyond 2015. Photo by Jes Aznar/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – In 2000, the world agreed to end extreme hunger and poverty, alongside other universal problems. This declaration gave birth to the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved in 2015. But what happens next?

Between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of people suffering from hunger and living with less than US$1 (P45) must be halved. Productive and decent employment for all is also being targeted.

In the past 15 years, the degree of hunger among Filipino households rose from 11% to 19.5% (1998-2013), according to polling firm Social Weather Stations (SWS). 

The survey suggested that more Filipinos considered themselves poor and hungry by the end of 2013. 

Food insecurity continues to be a national problem, with more than a quarter of Filipino adults suffering from it, according to the latest National Nutrition Survey (2011). 

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that food insecurity exists when “food availability, access, and use” are compromised. “Food security is a complex sustainable development issue, linked to health through malnutrition, but also to sustainable economic development, environment, and trade,” WHO added.

The latest data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that the number of poor Filipino families increased by 400,000 in the past 6 years. 

YearEstimated number of poor families
2006 3.8 million
2012 4.2 million


Unemployment, underemployment

Meanwhile, 12.1 million Filipino adults (27.5%) were jobless by the end of 2013, SWS said. The percentage has more than doubled in the past decade.

YearUnemployment rates
(SWS survey per quarter)
December 1993 12.7%
November 2003 10.6%
December 2013 27.5%


On average, the unemployment rate in 2013 was 7.3% (approximately 3 million people), according to the National Statistics Office (NSO). This is slightly higher than 2012’s 7%.   

The underemployment rate in 2013 stood at 19.8% (7.5 million), virtually unchanged from the previous year’s 20%.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said that underemployment “exists when employed persons have not attained their full employment level.”

This happens when a person’s skills are not fully utilized at work, or when he or she does not have the “freedom to choose employment” and the “possibilities to acquire the necessary skills to get the employment” that most suits him or her, the ILO said.

Underemployment also happens when an employed person wants to have additional jobs or work hours.

A 2010 study from the University of the Philippines School of Statistics examined the “impact of food inflation and underemployment on hunger incidence in the Philippines.” 

The study concluded that “increasing the number of new jobs that will be created and enhancing the quality of jobs are important factors that will decrease the hunger incidence in the country.” 

The Philippines is home to over 96.7 million people. With more people either jobless or underemployed, and with yet more mouths to feed, can the Philippines expect a population that is less poor and less hungry beyond 2015?

The irony 

Ironically, 11 Filipinos are among the world’s billionaires; their combined wealth amounts to $37.85 billion (P1.69 trillion). The wealth of only 11 Filipino businessmen is already more than half the country’s total budget for 2014 (P2.265 trillion). 

FAO estimates that $30 billion/year is needed to eradicate world hunger.

NSCB said that “a poor family with five members needed a monthly additional income of P 2,067 to move out of poverty in 2012.” If all 4.2 million poor families in 2012 were each given that amount for a year, it would total P104.2 billion  – a relatively small amount compared to the combined wealth of the richest Filipinos.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sees social inequity as one of the biggest challenges in the Philippines.

The Philippines also made international headlines for its 7.2% GDP growth rate in 2013, boasting of an economic performance second best in Asia. Still a majority of Filipinos do not seem to benefit from the country’s recent strides.

The irony is seen in the empty plates and rising food prices, the jampacked trains and 1-passenger private vehicles, the rows of makeshift houses and high-rise condominiums, and in the lives of poor and rich Filipinos.

A 2013 study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the National University of Singapore said that GDP growth alone cannot solve problems in education and health; attention must be given to skills development, quality education, employment opportunities, and incentives for small- and medium-enterprises.

The state needs to increase support for infrastructure, urban environments, and social protection. Gender inequities and labor market rigidities must be dissolved, the study said.

Countries, the study also said, should promote more effective state action to make growth more inclusive. The government, private sector, and civil society must work together in achieving these goals.

The ADB warned of growing income gaps and other forms of inequality, “the spike in inequality will also impact future economic growth through slower poverty reduction and employment generation.”

Philippines and the world

HUNGRY PHILIPPINES? How does the Philippines fare in the global arena? Graphic by Emil Mercado/Rappler

According to a 2013 UN report on MDGs, the Philippines slowed down in achieving half of the progress indicators. It slowed down in the following areas: 

  • Poverty
  • Underweight children
  • Primary education completion
  • Gender equality
  • Maternal mortality and skilled birth attendance
  • Safe drinking water and basic sanitation
  • Forest cover and protected areas

The latest NNS from 2011 reported that 51% of Filipinos made no effort to make their drinking water safe.

Within 8 years, there was minimal change in the prevalence of underweight children aged 5 years and below. In 2003, 20.7% of those aged 5 and below were underweight; this decreased very slightly to 20.2% in 2011. 

From 2008 to 2011, across all regions, the underweight prevalence in the same age group was never lower than 10%, while stunting prevalence was never lower than 22%. The highest prevalence in both cases was recorded in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

However, the Philippines accelerated its progress in primary enrollment, infant mortality, antenatal care, management of HIV and TB, and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.


In terms of issues linked to poor nutrition, Filipino children are also topping world rankings:

The 2013 State of Food and Agriculture report by FAO showed that the Philippines, among Asia’s “tiger cub economies,” had the highest prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency and was 2nd highest in terms of anemia among children.

Prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies among children
Latest observation from the Micronutrient Initiative 2009

CountryAnemiaVitamin A deficiencyIodine deficiency
Philippines 36.3% 40.1% 23.8%
Malaysia 32.4% 3.5% 57%
Thailand 25.2% 15.7% 34.9%
Indonesia 44.5% 19.6% 16.3%


“The first step has to be freedom from hunger. Once that is settled, the other empowering can take place,” President Aquino said in his 2010 presidential campaign.

In 2015, will the Philippines finally experience freedom from hunger? Indications are, perhaps not.  – Rappler.com

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