Research group IBON said that the results of the expanded national nutrition survey (ENNS) dispute the logic of institutionalizing the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) for poverty alleviation under Republic Act (RA) No. 11310. The program is said to be an “investment in the next generation” that develops healthy educated Filipinos. Yet after over 10 years of implementation, said the group, Filipino children still suffer from chronic undernutrition. Also, more than half of the population remains food insecure.
Data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) show that the nutritional status of Filipino children has not significantly changed since 2008 when the 4Ps commenced. Stunting, in particular, has even worsened among infants and young children. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stunting as the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.
The incidence of stunting among infants and young children 0-23 months old worsened from 20.2% in 2008 to 25.5% in 2018, and only slightly improved among children under 5 years old from 32.2% to 30.3% in the same period. Also according to FNRI, there is still a “public health problem of high severity” among school children ages 6-10 years at 24.5% in 2018, even if this is lower than the 32.2% reported in 2008. FNRI also reports that 53.9% of the population is still food insecure in 2018.
Other indicators of undernutrition, such as underweight and wasting, also worsened for school children 6-10 years old, from 20% in 2008 to 24.5% in 2018 and 6% to 7.6%, respectively, from 2008 to 2018. These indicators meanwhile are statistically unchanged among children under 5 years old – underweight barely improved from 20% in 2008 to 19.1% in 2018, while wasting moved slightly from 6% in 2008 to 5.6% in 2018.
Meanwhile, data from the Department of Health (DOH) 2018 Field Health Services Information System (FHSIS) show that deaths among children under five years old increased to 11.42 per 1,000 live births in 2018 from 10.8 per 1,000 live births in 2013. The UNICEF observes that nearly half of deaths in children under 5 years old are attributable to undernutrition which puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, aggravates such infections, and delays recovery.
Food insecurity and lack of nutrition remain a public health concern, IBON said. This is despite the billions spent on the much touted poverty alleviation program – about Php475 billion from 2008 to 2018, said the group.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) attributes the recent reported decline in poverty incidence to 4Ps, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) claims that 1,315,477 household beneficiaries moved above the poverty line also due to 4Ps. IBON however noted that the program was questioned by a 2017 Commission on Audit (COA) report.
The COA said that the DSWD data does not say whether the 4Ps services were effective in keeping Filipino children healthy or if increased access to primary and secondary education guaranteed the 4Ps children would be properly equipped to pursue further education or secure jobs. “There is insufficient longitudinal evidence to determine if the program caused the decline in poverty incidence and henceforth contributed to the goal of breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty,” the COA stated.
These show that while cash grants through the 4Ps may provide temporary relief to Filipino families, mere dole-outs cannot wipe out poverty, said IBON.
Raising wages and incomes substantially is critically important, said IBON. Paying Filipino workers substantial and just wages will let them buy nutritious food for their children, said the group. Giving farmers, fisherfolk and other food producers free land to till, the infrastructure, technology and capital they need and ensuring that they are paid fair prices for their produce will give them enough income to meet the food needs of their families.
The group also stressed that the long-term solution to pervasive hunger and poverty among the millions of Filipinos is enough decent work from developed Philippine agriculture and industry. The government should develop domestic agriculture for local consumption and production of other raw materials. Local manufacturing should be developed as part of larger program of national industrialization.
People-oriented economic policies that give foremost importance to peoples’ welfare are needed. With steady income sources deeply connected with the country’s economic development, Filipino families can then nurture healthy and educated children. Only then can it be said that chronic poverty has begun to meet its end, said the group. ###
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