by Beatriz Amber Espiritu

Sat on a corrugated cardboard in front of a busy walkway in Caloocan City is a mother, and her two young boys aged 4 and 7. Poverty forced them to rely on spare changes of busy people passing by and, if lucky, food to get them through the day.

The kids, both of school age, had to prioritize surviving. They are among the 16.1 percent of Filipinos living below the poverty line and are left with no choice – if they don’t beg, they’ll starve.

To experience hunger is a natural bodily reaction when one lacks food to eat. However, most are privileged enough to satiate their hunger by eating once they have the time to – and sometimes eat beyond what they need. This dictionary definition of hunger is entirely different from the hunger that the slums of Metro Manila experience.

The country’s hunger woes

The world produces enough food for the entire planet – but 820 million people, or around 1 in 10 people, still experience hunger worldwide each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

Hunger, as defined by the United Nations (UN) Hunger Report, is when people endure days without eating because they do not have the means to avail food, or because it is inaccessible.

In the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI), the Philippines scored 20.1 on a scale of 0 (best) to 100 (worst), placing the country under the serious category.

The Philippines ranked 70th out of the 117 countries qualified.

Though placed under serious level, the hunger situation in the country has significantly improved if compared to 2005’s GHI of 22.1 and 2000’s GHI of 26.2.

Food insecurity leads to hunger and malnutrition. The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) said that the current chronic malnutrition rate among Filipino children aged 0 to 2 is 26.2% – the highest in 10 years.

Malnutrition poses a great risk to the health of people, especially children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that one in three children in the Philippines had stunted growth that can be fatal or irreversible after two years of age.

The symptoms of malnourishment become unnoticed if there is no proper education regarding nutrition. A study in 2013 by Dr. Edilberto Garcia of University of the Philippines-Manila claimed that nutritional education will directly benefit and influence the Philippines’ nutritional status.

Towards the eradication of hunger

In 2015, The United Nations General Assembly came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to “transform the world” by the year 2030. Eradicating hunger is second to these SDGs, with an aim to “[e]nd hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

President Rodrigo Duterte formed an inter-agency task force to deal with hunger in the Philippines last January by passing Executive Order No. 101, s. 2020 to ensure that viable solutions and measures are done to eradicate hunger and attain food security.

EO 101 states that “[t]here is a need to carefully coordinate, rationalize, monitor and assess the efforts of concerned government agencies and instrumentalities to ensure a whole-of-government approach to eradicating hunger and achieving food security.”

Is it possible to end hunger in the given time frame? Dr. Amado Parawan, advisor of Save the Children’s Health and Nutrition, believes so, saying that “[i]f we focus and come together, we can definitely end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.”

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