by Anne Olaño
The hunger issue has persistently been on the list of problems to address by each administration. Being an agricultural country, it is a wonder why despite the vast number of farmlands and fisheries, the incidence of those who consider themselves as food-poor continues to escalate. In a survey dated September 2009, 53% of the families in the country are experiencing poverty, and the nutritional needs of 35% of this population are not sufficiently met.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has identified qualitative criteria to define those who are hungry:
They are of all ages, from babies whose mothers cannot produce enough milk to the elderly with no relatives to care for them. They are the unemployed inhabitants of urban slums, the landless farmers tilling other people’s fields, the orphans of AIDS and the sick, who need special or increased food intake to survive. (2009)
Considering the statistics and definition, the reality of its existence in the Philippines is undeniable. Maria (not her real name) is a mother of eight who lives in a rehabilitated village in a former slum colony. She says that before she lived in her new community, the residents usually earned just enough for one (1) kilogram of rice that was rationed for up to three meals. This was divided among at least five members of the family. If they earned more money, they usually added fish or rice to the meal.
There are, however, instances wherein they did not have money. In those instances, they had to eat only one meal a day or beg off restaurants to give them the leftovers.
Like his father Ninoy, Senator Noynoy Aquino considers hunger among his top priorities. He sees a more grassroots approach to tackling the issue. It starts by allocating the budget to address these issues, notably in the education system. According to him,
“Education has always been a priority in my district. We prioritized this through outright portions of the national budget… As a fiscalizer, I constantly mull over how best to slice the pie that is the national budget. We have endeavored identifying wastage and trying to redirect resources to more profitable areas, as a way to correcting the deficiencies in our system.”
Experts in the field support this view. They assert that government officials, especially local leaders, should increase awareness on the problem through the schools. This helps send the message across different sectors. In effect, more people, experts, and civil society groups will be involved in finding viable solutions for the problem.
On the administrative side, the annual budget must reflect the government’s willingness to mitigate the problem by sufficiently funding government programs against hunger and providing incentives and to organizations which help in reducing hunger.
The solutions to the plethora of problems plaguing our country will only be actualized if good governance reigns. While this is a problem that Filipinos must face together, leaders, especially elected officials, must take the initiative in providing solutions such as properly allocating public funds and educating their constituents.
If this happens, we will not only see a reduced number of hungry people but maybe, Filipinos might wake up one day to a poverty-free, first-world country.
Anne Olaño is a graduate student in Development Policy. She is active in local nation-building projects, including education.