SWS survey: PH hunger rate climbs in new all-time high amid pandemic
MANILA, Philippines — The disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic hindered a lot of Filipinos from accessing food, which ultimately pushed the country’s average hunger rate in 2020 to reach an all-time high of 21.2 percent, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
Hunger became prevalent even when a separate report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country was able to improve its ability to produce basic food needs and trim its reliance on imports, highlighting that the availability of food does not directly translate to access.
The latest PSA report, entitled “Food Balance Sheets of the Philippines,” showed that the country’s self-sufficiency rate rose to 83 percent in 2020 from 81.3 percent in 2019 while the country’s import-dependency ratio declined to 24.9 percent against the 2019 level of 29 percent.
The country’s hunger rate during the same period, however, still surpassed the previous record of 19.9 percent in 2011 and 2012, and is double the average hunger rate in 2019 at 9.3 percent.
Bank of the Philippine Islands lead economist Jun Neri said the spike in the country’s hunger rate may be directly related to the country’s unemployment rate last year that also hit a record-high of 10.3 percent. This is equivalent to 4.5 million Filipinos who do not have jobs but are looking for one.
“There were more goods available from production but fewer buyers due to lost incomes,” he said.
He added that while bottlenecks in the movement of commodities impacted the distribution of food, it was poverty that caused several Filipinos to experience involuntary hunger.
Neri noted that because of the lower purchasing power among the poor, the sales of grocery chains mostly catering to poor- to middle-class Filipinos reported a decline in sales, while upper-class supermarkets continued to grow amid the pandemic.
This is also reflected in the SWS survey as those who considered themselves “food-poor” also registered the highest hunger incidence rate compared to those who do not consider themselves “not food-poor.”
The government’s variations of lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of establishments that eventually put several Filipinos out of work. It deeply impacted impoverished families versus those who have ample resources to buffer economic uncertainties.
In a phone interview, Agriculture Secretary William Dar underscored the government’s efforts to ramp up production, but noted that these initiatives would be “meaningless if people will not have the money to buy food.”
“Hunger incidence is directly related to poverty incidence. The lockdowns and quarantines imposed resulted in the loss of jobs,” he said.
“We always reiterate that the threat of hunger is as real as the COVID-19 … this is why we enjoin local government units to invest in agriculture and push programs that will improve food security,” he added.
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