rosario braid - Hunger, a threat worse than COVID-19
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

The recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll which showed hunger at record-high 30.7% should send alarm bells to our leaders and to every Filipino. Today, 7.6 million families are experiencing “involuntary hunger” at least once a month. This surpassed the previous high of 23.8% in March, 2012. Involuntary hunger is due to lack of food to eat.

The hunger rate rose in all areas with record highs in the Visayas, Mindanao, and Metro Manila. “Rise Against Hunger Philippines,” an NGO noted last May that the Philippines is responding to a “never-seen-before crisis.”

Although Southeast Asia has done well in reducing the number of hungry from a Prevalence of Undernourishment (POU) through measures like integrating rural markets into the national economy and channeling sufficient funds to food production, five countries in the region – Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar — are facing serious hunger rates due to factors as poor sanitation and infrastructure, and female illiteracy.

POU in the Philippines is especially found among children under 5 due to lack of sufficient food. And we are aware that the long-term impact of hunger and malnutrition on the physical and cognitive development of the child during the first two years is irreversible. Indicators such as stunted growth, inability to concentrate or focus, eventually ends up in poor school performance and a high percentage in school drop-outs.

I Googled to search for past and present interventions to address the crisis and found that in addition to what is being done by government and NGOs like Oxfam, Save the Children, Rise against Hunger, and UN organizations like UNICEF, FAO, UNDP, as well as barangays and citizens’ organizations through initiatives like soup kitchens, food packages, and communal gardens, we have pending legislation which need to be revived, repackaged, harmonized, and rationalized so that they can be passed into law.

It is time to seriously look into various ways by which we can reverse the current rise in hunger rate and malnutrition.

There are two pending bills in the House of Representatives on Zero Hunger or Right to Adequate Food. One authored by Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez was initially filed in 2014 as House Bill (HB) 3795 and later changed to HB 7193 in 2018. Patterned after a similar bill in Brazil, it envisions a comprehensive law specifically to address hunger and food insecurity and will require cooperation among all government units working towards a more unified approach to end hunger in ten years. I understand it is now in the Senate. Since it would involve several agencies it will need a commission or body that will coordinate efforts and would therefore require another layer in the bureaucracy. But this is no obstacle if we consider what would happen if we do not act.

The other Zero Hunger Bill (HB 1532) or Right to Adequate Food Framework authored by Jericho and Karlo Nograles was refiled in 2019 and will require an inter-agency task force to craft a national food policy to address hunger and malnutrition. It seeks to address “hidden hunger” or hunger caused by food that lacks essential nutrients and to make food a sustained priority and as a legal right, not an object of charity. It will allow the poor to access cheap locally produced food products and help farmers cope with effects of rice liberalization and increase food production capacity.

Now is the time to reconcile provisions of these two bills so that they can be enacted into law.

Another is to follow the example of other ASEAN countries, by providing sufficient funding for food production. It is not too late to pass the Zero Hunger bill into law so that the needed structures can be put into place.

Let us beat hunger which is even a more serious threat than COVID-19!

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