Research group IBON said that hunger and food insecurity are worsening amid the ongoing pandemic crisis. The group said that more ayuda has to be immediately given to millions of poor and vulnerable families to ensure that everyone has economic access to food. Domestic agricultural production also has to be supported to strengthen food security.
IBON said that the widespread loss of livelihoods from the protracted lockdowns is pushing more Filipinos into poverty, thus limiting their access to food. The growing number of unemployed and in informal or irregular work because of the government’s poor response is making hunger worsen, the group said.
Officially reported unemployment grew by 1.5 million to a high 3.9 million in August 2021 from pre-pandemic January 2020. IBON estimates that over 19 million or more than two in five jobs are now informal work including self-employment, small family farms or business, domestic help, or unpaid family workers. This does not yet include millions more in informal wage work hired by private establishments. The number of part-time workers also spiked by a huge 2.7 million to 16.1 million.
In its latest East Asia Pacific Economic Update, the World Bank reported that the Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar had the sharpest declines in employment in the region from 2019 to 2020, and that workers are moving from urban formal jobs to rural informal jobs. As a result, it projects that less people in the region will escape poverty in 2021, and that more than 90% of those who will stay poor will come from the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar.
IBON said that loss of livelihoods means families having much less money to buy food. IBON estimates that the poorest 70% of families (about 17.3 million) lost an average of Php13,000-32,000 since March 2020. This is consistent with recent Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) data that households without savings and thus completely dependent on immediate earnings or debt increased to 74.8% (18.7 million) of households in the third quarter of 2021 from 71.4% (17.8 million) in the previous quarter. This is significantly more than the 62.2% (15.4 million) without savings in the first quarter of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.
Coupled with soaring food prices, falling incomes and depleted savings means more Filipinos with less economic access to food and going hungry, said the group.
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines had among the worst food insecurity of Southeast Asian countries. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, 46.1 million or 42.7% of the country’s total population experience moderate or severe food insecurity, based on a 3-year average (2018-2020). This worsened from the 41.2% (42.1 million) in 2014-2016. The prevalence of severe food insecurity alone worsened from 3.2% (3.3 million) to 4% (4.3 million) in the same period.
As the country’s hunger and food insecurity becomes grimmer, giving more ayuda is justified and needed to help millions of vulnerable Filipinos cope with and recover from the pandemic crisis. The group said that the Duterte administration should immediately provide emergency assistance to 18 million poor and low-income families. IBON proposes that each household receive Php10,000 per month for at least 2-3 months.
IBON said that Congress can also approve the Makabayan bloc’s proposed amendments to the 2022 budget for economic stimulus which includes Php240 billion for Php10,000 cash assistance to families and Php100 billion for unemployment subsidies and direct financial assistance.