‘COVID -19’ pushes millions to hunger

Published June 15, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Zoilo "Bingo" P. Dejaresco III

The rich and those in the urban areas, may not quite know the extent of the damage of COVID-19 on the poor and rural folks. The former are mostly concerned about health and death statistics.

The reality is for many people daily meals have turned from three to two; from two to just one meal a day. The poor in the Baseco compound in Manila, for instance, sometimes have no food at night -and will wait their hunger till the next day.

The community pantries and the free food programs administered by the SVD community in Manila can testify that hunger is real. Says Jomar Fieras, Executive Director of the Rise Against Hunger in the Philippines: “I’ve never seen hunger at this level before.”

The economy slumped 9.5% in 2020 and the unemployment rate was up 8% in March. According to The World Asia, the SWS (Social Weather Station here reported that 7.6 million households (about 35 million Filipinos) faced “no food” once in the last three months; 2.2 million families (10 million Filipinos) faced “severe hunger, the highest number ever.”

The New York-based The New Humanitarian confirmed at least 1 of every 5 Filipinos faces hunger intermittently when inflation rose to 6.2%, much of which is food-based. This means the loss of income and business (due to lockdowns) and the rise in food commodity prices have created a double whammy-a living nightmare to many.

Already unable to secure the staple rice, worse, the prices of vegetables and meat had gone up, prompting the government to impose a price ceiling on pork and chicken at one time. Only the Rice Tarrification Law (earlier) and reduction of tariff on pork importation alleviated the situation.    

World statistics finger the Philippines as a laggard in terms of addressing the pandemic and calibrating lockdowns versus economic welfare among ASEAN nations. Of course, there were also unfortunate typhoons and the Asian Swine Flu that added to the pot of misery.  

Surely, the  Philippine pre-pandemic “below poverty levels” of 16 percent had gone back to their 20 percent levels now, erasing much of the anti-poverty gains pushed by many administrations. The worst hit would be the farmers and fisherfolks (about 30 million or a quarter of the population). The fishermen need oil and transport just to fish at sea and the farmers are too poor to invest in seeds as they have to eat first, worsening the potential food shortage.

 The DA (Department of Agriculture) has established a $600 million (about P30 billion) for food adequacy measures with loans and subsidies but how far will this go in an agricultural sector that hardly makes a dent in the GDP of the nation (only about 10-15 percent GDP contribution)?

In the meantime, Sen. Risa Hontiveros recently exposed that still 25 percent or some P 127 billion of the Bayanihan 2 Fund that was extended from December 2020 to June 2021 remains undistributed to the poor to this day and will need another legislative extension by July to perhaps December 2021 again? What kind of national sadism is this?

One thing overlooked in this scramble for food and nutrition is the fact that even before the pandemic, some 33 percent of our 1-5 years old kids are so malnourished as to stunt their physical and intellectual growth, some of them irreversibly. How big is that now amid the pandemic and what is its impact on the future quality of our human capital?

To be sure, the worsening hunger situation is a global phenomenon in this pandemic. According to the World Bank, the food prices had gone up by 40 percent from January 2020, the start of COVID-19. Together with the supply chain disruption, this has reduced both the quantity and the quality of the food consumed by the world’s poor and middle-income sectors.

 According to the WFP (World Food Program) in their study of 35 poor countries, the number of people without sufficient food moved from  (April 2020) 185 million to 296 million (April 2021), a frightening deterioration of  60 percent. This is the worst situation since 2010 when there was severe drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

 This grim situation is confirmed by the United Nations that some 820 million of the 8 billion (10 percent of the world populace) went to bed hungry going through the pandemic. That is the reason why the WHO (World Health Organization) went into direct help to poor affected countries with direct cash transfer, seed provision, food supplements and even health necessities like masks and sanitizers to their citizens.

 This is a race against time of arriving at herd immunity through fast immunization and the recovery of people’s economic well-being before it is too late. Those who would rather play politics and waste away people’s money at this debilitating moment in our nation’s history should have their conscience and brain examined.

The hunger situation is no-kidding bad. And just because one does not feel the pangs of hunger yet in their homes does not mean it is not happening elsewhere.

(Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and book author. He is a Lifetime and Media member of Finex. His view here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex. [email protected]).