Even before the pandemic struck, it certainly was appalling how many Filipinos go hungry every day, how those living in extreme poverty lacked the means not only to feed themselves but also how to afford the other basic necessities in life.
With the pandemic raging, hunger incidence became record high. Severe hunger was at 8.7 percent last September when nine out of every hundred Filipinos have gone hungry “often or always” in the previous three months, according to a bleak report of the Social Weather Stations.
The SWS survey showed the incidence of severe hunger surged beyond the previous peak of six percent recorded in March 2001. It also revealed that 30.7 percent, or one in every three Filipinos, experienced hunger at least once in three months, beating the previous high of 23.8 percent reported in March 2012.
It’s not surprising why severe hunger incidence rose inexorably amid the strict lockdowns brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. With quarantine measures banning restaurants from serving dine-in, food had become so scarce for the extremely impoverished who rely on left-overs or the so-called pagpag.
And the impact of the pandemic is worsening the plight of malnourished Filipino children. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the enhanced community quarantine did not only create a situation that posed challenges to the nutrition programs for severely malnourished children as operations of health centers have been disrupted, worse, it has resulted to the inability of families to meet their basic food requirements due to income losses,” Save the Children Philippines nutrition advisor Dr. Amado Parawan said.
“Children who die from COVID-19 may have been suffering from acute malnutrition or wasting caused by hunger with complications such as pneumonia and dehydration due to diarrhea,” according to Atty. Alberto Muyot, CEO of the children’s organization. “Unemployment in the time of health crisis adversely impacts the vulnerable and marginalized, especially children, pregnant and lactating mothers, those with disabilities, and the poorest of the poor as the loss of income of household providers, breadwinners means less provision of food,” he explained.
The situation on malnutrition and undernutrition was already grim prior to the pandemic. The UNICEF said around 95 child deaths occur every day in the Philippines due to undernutrition, which is the “underlying cause in 45 percent of child deaths worldwide.”
The Philippines is among those with the highest wasting and stunting prevalence, according to a 2016 Global Nutrition Report. Of 130 countries ranked lowest to highest on wasting prevalence, the Philippines was ranked 93rd at 7.9 percent prevalence. On stunting, the Philippines has 30.3 percent prevalence and at 88th spot out of 132 countries also ranked lowest to highest.
Thus, the necessity and urgency of addressing hunger and the forms of malnutrition has become more pressing with the pandemic raging. And it is really a blessing that the community pantries that have sprouted in many places, including the feeding programs that continue to serve those in dire need, are working tirelessly.
In my Teleradgyo program last Sunday, I spoke to some of those behind the food-giving programs.
Fr. Jose dela Cruz of the Baclaran Redemptorist Church said that for five days a week, except for Wednesdays and Sundays when more people go to church and social distancing becomes difficult, volunteers hand out food packs to people, whether Christians or Muslims. He said those who want to donate are welcome and they could just go to the church premises.
Fr. Douglas Badong, parochial vicar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo said they give out relief packs to some 400 people who are contacted by text so they can get the items in an orderly manner. There’s also cooked food like sopas, lugaw, or champorado in huge calderos (each can feed more than a hundred people) distributed everyday in various barangays in Manila and even outside the city.
And there’s also the Tanging Yaman Foundation, founded by Fr. Manoling Franciso and a partnership of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, which helps both the hungry and farmers in Luzon whose harvests are bought directly, thereby augmenting their income as middlemen are out of the picture.
Herold Pelonio, communication and donor care manager said they started giving out food packs since last year when Taal Volcano erupted. In the past two weeks, he said they started to distribute vegetables and rice to around 500 community pantries in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. With a battlecry of “A little from many becomes much,” the foundation welcomes all help from individual and corporate donors who can contact Tanging Yaman at 09475659544 or thru its website and Facebook page.
Also serving the hungry are OFWs in Saudi Arabia who organized a community pantry in Bgy. Molino, Bacoor, Cavite. Mensen Joseph Lopez, external vice president of Grab We Care United-Saudi Arabia, said donations come from various donors, including kasambahay sponsors, and they have given out vegetables and other food items to 600 people last weekend.
With help coming from everywhere and volunteers working tirelessly, the bayanihan spirit is certainly alive in these trying times. And it is amazing that many who are poor themselves have something to share for the needy. St. Pope John Paul II certainly is right when he said: “Nobody is so poor he has nothing to give…”
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