The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia. Comprised of more than 7,600 islands, the nation’s natural beauty and beaches have made it an international tourist destination. However, the country faces a major hunger problem. According to an October 2022 World Food Programme (WFP) survey, one in 10 Philippine households experiences food insecurity. A volatile climate, social inequality and uneven wealth distribution have contributed to the country’s ongoing hunger crises. Here is everything to know about hunger in the Philippines.
History of Hunger in the Philippines
Food scarcity in the Philippines is not a new phenomenon. In recent history, repeated disasters and famines have had detrimental effects both regionally, on specific Philippine islands and regions, and nationally. For example, in 1972, successive typhoons led to mass starvation, social upheaval and disease across the main island of Luzon, with Pampanga and surrounding provinces in Central Luzon being particularly affected. The 1972 disaster was also detrimental to the nearby Pangasinan province, in Luzon’s Ilocos Region, that it resulted in the homelessness of some 250,000 people and the near starvation of over 50,000 families.
In early 1994, another series of typhoons devastated Southern Luzon’s Bicol Region along with the Visayas and the northeastern portion of Mindanao. The disasters drove an estimated 600,000 Filipinos into homelessness and an estimated 100,000 into starvation, exacerbating poverty and food insecurity in the country.
How the Hunger Problem Disproportionately Affects the Philippines’ Poorest
While many in the Philippines face hunger, hunger inordinately afflicts the country’s poorest people. One reason for this is that the country’s poorest rely upon agriculture for income and sustenance, making them particularly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and the destruction caused by natural disasters. The WFP estimates that 25% of agricultural households in the Philippines suffer from food insecurity, a percentage substantially higher than the 9% of non-agricultural Philippine households.
Uneven wealth distribution also contributes to the nation’s poorest suffering worse from hunger. According to the World Bank, 1% of the population earns 17% of the Philippines’ national income, while the bottom 50% of earners share just 14% of the national income. Consistent with this disparity, globally rising food and energy costs have been especially devastating in the Philippines’ poorest regions, where access to food and other resources is becoming increasingly limited. Not surprisingly, the three most food-insecure regions in the Philippines are among the seven poorest in the country.
Hunger in the Philippines Has Worsened in Recent Years
Statistics published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations show that the hunger problem in the Philippines has worsened in recent years. The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report indicated that more people in the Philippines suffered from food insecurity than in any other Southeast Asian nation between 2017 and 2019. During that period, a recorded 59 million Philippine people suffered from food insecurity, a substantial increase from the recorded 44.9 million Filipinos who experienced food insecurity from 2014 to 2016. The FAO cited an “increasing population, limited resources and natural disasters” as contributing to the country’s worsening hunger problem, which has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Impact of the Hunger Crisis on Filipino Children
In light of these factors, Filipino children increasingly face serious undernutrition. In 2019, 29% of Filipino children between the ages of 0 and 5 experienced stunting due to undernutrition. The Philippines has one of the ten highest rates of stunting among children globally, with over 40% of children suffering from stunting in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and Southwestern Tagalong Region.
Many Filipino children also suffer from micronutrient undernutrition, which is the insufficient intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Micronutrient undernutrition afflicts around 38% of infants 11 months old and younger and 26% of 12-to-23-month-old children. As of 2018, almost 17% of children between 6 months and 5 years old were vitamin A deficient. In addition to posing major physical health risks, undernutrition severely hinders children’s cognitive development and is detrimental to the country’s human and economic development as a whole.
Relief Efforts and International Aid To Feed Those Most in Need
On-the-ground work by organizations like the WFP has helped feed many people facing food insecurity in the Philippines. Notably, the WFP has been partnering with local governments and communities to provide nutritious school meals to undernourished children while supporting the country’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. As a result of the initiative, all 100 children who attend Bisang Elementary, in BARMM, now receive nutritious meals daily. The initiative complements WFP’s ongoing work to provide nutritious meals and improved health care for 6-month-old to 5-year-old Filipino children, mitigate poverty and food insecurity in the Philippines and alleviate the devastation caused by national disasters and conflict.
Furthermore, Action Against Hunger helped nearly 200,000 people in the Philippines in 2022. Initiated in 2000, the organization’s branch in the Philippines has emphasized diversifying livelihoods, building “resiliency to disaster” and improving sanitation and nutrition.
In 2022, the U.S. also provided over $192 million in aid to the Philippines. Out of this sum, $29 million went toward emergency responses and another $28 million was invested in basic health needs.
The Philippines currently faces a pressing hunger problem. While factors including the pandemic, frequent natural disasters and social inequity have exacerbated hunger in the Philippines in recent years, international and local efforts to reverse the trend are making an impact. With continued aid and collaboration, there is hope for the eradication of hunger in the Philippines.
– Max Steventon