We, Filipinos, are not known to easily give up. And in the face of adversity, we as a community are able to overcome either by helping each other out or receiving help from our kapwa. We have witnessed this in the past week or so with the emergence of the viral idea of the community pantry — a collective effort that exemplifies the spirit of Bayanihan amid the sporadic lockdowns. The numerous carts and tables that have sprung in various parts of the archipelago provide for our kababayans’ immediate needs and help quell hunger during these trying times.
Hunger incidence has been on the rise globally and locally due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said there are nearly 690 million people who are currently hungry, or equivalent to 8.9 percent of the world’s population. The FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in World 2020 report projects that the number of individuals affected by hunger would go beyond 840 million by 2030, thus making it impossible to achieve the previously set Zero Hunger target for the same year. The same report also found that COVID-19’s health and socio-economic effects exacerbate the malnutrition of the most vulnerable population groups.
The Fourth Quarter 2020 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey confirms this worsening state of hunger throughout the country. SWS indicated that the Philippines’ average full-year hunger peaked at 21.1 percent, or about 5.2 million families. That is double the 2019 average of 9.3 percent, and well beyond the high hunger rates recorded in 2010 and in 2011 of 19.9 percent. While the total hunger rate subsided to 16 percent in November 2020 from the record-high of 30.7 percent last September 2020, this still translates to about four million families experiencing involuntary hunger due to lack of food to eat “at least once in the past three months.”
Compared to the rest of the world, the Philippines ranked 73rd out of 113 countries in the latest Global Food Security Index, which is lower from our previous rank of 64th in the 2019 report. Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak combined with climate change to aggravate the vulnerabilities of food systems worldwide. For the country, the report zeroed in on how the Philippines is also exposed to rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns resulting to land degradation and crop failures.
These findings only underscore the need to prioritize food security during and beyond this pandemic. We should not overlook this issue as it is only becoming more severe due to the global health crisis.
We filed the Right to Adequate Food Framework Act (Senate Bill No. 138) which institutionalizes the view that providing adequate food is not a matter of charity, but of legal entitlement, and that hunger must be eliminated as it is inconsistent with human dignity and human rights. This shall be done through the creation and implementation of a plan that would reduce hunger incidence to near-zero within 10 years. In addition, it adopts a whole-of-nation approach by ensuring public participation through the involvement of civil society organizations in the realization of the Zero Hunger plan.
The community pantry could play a decisive role in realizing this overall Zero Hunger plan, if ever this measure is enacted to law. In the meantime, these pantries serve a vital role in the survival of our people amid the pandemic. One sociologist described the community pantry as the “ordinary citizen’s way of taking action in the face of crisis.”
As I recently mentioned, the national government, local government units, and the private sector should replicate this initiative to have an even greater impact to all Filipinos. Moreover, we cannot and should not alienate groups and individuals who have been joining the cause as these small efforts will have a better and faster outcome in arresting hunger, and providing for everyone’s needs if we put all our hands on deck.
From our end, we will constantly advocate for measures and push for initiatives that ensure adequate food for all, but this is only a part of the solution to eradicate hunger among Filipinos. While we may be fazed by the uncertainty and fear caused by this pandemic, we can certainly outdo this difficulty if we take a collective approach.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for more than 16 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara