“A generation of Filipino children are already hindered from reaching their full potential if they are hungry and deprived of the nutrition they need to learn in school and stay active. We must collectively work together to take care of our children and ensure that they are able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.” – Senator Grace Poe
It’s the paradox of our times. While the economy of the Philippines is supposedly booming, the malnutrition problem is not getting better – in fact, it is getting worse!
When a person is not getting enough food or not getting the right sort of food, malnutrition is just around the corner. “Even if people get enough to eat, they will become malnourished if the food they eat does not provide the proper amounts of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – to meet daily nutritional requirements,” the UN World Food Program points out.
In the Philippines, malnutrition generally affects children. Most of them suffer from what experts called as chronic malnutrition, or stunting rate for children under 5 years old. Children who suffer from chronic malnutrition fail to grow to their full genetic potential, both mentally and physically.
Based on a survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) and released in 2015, chronic malnutrition is at its worst in 10 years and this may get worse unless necessary steps are soon taken.
The data showed chronic malnutrition rate among children aged 0 to 2 was at 26.2%, the highest in 10 years. From 2013 to 2015, 10% of the stunting children increased to an average of 40%, and is expected to increase in the coming years.
In its 2013 report, entitled “Cost of Hunger: Philippines,” the Save the Children Philippines said the country lost almost ₱328 billion or 30% of that year’s gross domestic product due to malnutrition.
“If stunting rates continue to rise, it would be difficult for families to break free from poverty,” Ned Olney, the country’s director for the said non-government organization, was quoted as saying. “It is the poor and neglected sectors of society that carry the burden of stunting.”
But there are also children who may not be affected by stunting but they lack getting essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development. These children suffer from micronutrient malnutrition.
The FNRI, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology, said that two out of ten schoolchildren suffer from iron deficiency anemia, and the incident rises with age. Also, one out of ten from the same group is Vitamin A deficient. In addition, two out of ten children are zinc deficient.
But children are not the only ones who will experience malnutrition as population continues to grow. In 1980, the Philippines was home to 48 million Filipinos. In 2000, the number swelled to 78 million. Today, there are more than 100 million people inhabiting the country.
Some years back, the Philippines was listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as one of the 13 low-income food-deficit countries in Asia (“those that do not have enough food to feed their populations and for the most part lack the financial resources to pay for imports”).
The other twelve countries — most of them thickly populated — were Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
“In many developing countries, rapid population growth makes it difficult for agricultural production to keep pace with the rising demand for food,” wrote Don Hinrichsen in a report published by Population Reports. “Most developing countries already are cultivating virtually all arable land and are bringing more marginal land under cultivation.”
Jacques Diouf, at the time when he was the director-general of FAO, echoed the same concern. “Population growth continues to outstrip food availability in many countries,” he pointed out during the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome.
Hunger is the world’s “most solvable problem,” declared the UN World Food Program. But in the Philippines, hunger persists across the country. But while the situation has improved, it has remains “serious,” according to the International Food Policy Research Institute said. In fact, the Philippines’ Global Hunger Index score of 13.2 ranks 28th worldwide.
It is very disturbing, indeed. Carin van der Hor, Country Director of Plan International, observed that malnutrition among Filipino children below the age of five has changed very little over the past 10 years. “The reduction of child malnutrition has been alarmingly slow,” Hor said.
In a Business Mirror article, Jacques Reber, Nestle Philippines Chairman and CEO, was quoted as saying: “For the Philippines to combat malnutrition and achieve its full potential, we need to adopt a more systemic approach to reducing hunger and malnutrition. We need to bring together organizations with expertise in various subjects, from access to food, nutrition education, water, sanitation, and hygiene, to nutrition in disaster. We need to harness the energy and ideas of young people, who have demonstrated their will and capacity to shape the Philippines into a country whose people are able to lead prosperous and healthy lives.”
More often than not, people equate hunger with food. Once they fill their stomach with food, hunger is gone – for a while.
“Food is literally the most important thing in the world,” said Arturo R. Tanco, Jr. who once headed the World Food Council. “It is not even next to life, because it is life itself. Deprived of the right to food, man knows no other. For the hungry, there is no dignity, no human rights, no rule of law, no liberty, no celebration of the spirit… the most crucial task before world community today is to assure that enough food is available at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.”