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Hunger in Singapore
With one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the world and a reputation for being a “Food Paradise,’” it is difficult to imagine that food security is an issue in Singapore. However, hunger persists despite Singapore’s reputation as an affluent and food-secure nation. This hidden hunger in Singapore is a result of food insecurity and has caused malnutrition throughout the country.

Hidden Hunger in Singapore

Singapore is ranked as the world’s most food-secure nation, yet many Singaporeans still struggle to access a sufficient and nutritious diet. This “hidden hunger,” or the high rate of malnutrition, has created a significant issue for the nation. According to the U.N., about 4.1% of Singaporeans experienced moderate to severe food insecurity between 2016 and 2018. Food security is more than having access to the amount of food needed to survive; it is having nutritionally adequate food that is vital for a person’s growth and development.

A large part of Singapore’s population experiences food insecurity first-hand. Researchers from the Lien Center for Social Innovation reported that only 2.5% of the survey respondents from four low-income neighborhoods had no food insecurity, while 80% of respondents experienced mild to moderate food insecurity. The researchers found that within the last 12 months, one in five low-income households in Singapore had to go a whole day without eating or could not eat when hungry due to a lack of resources.

However, food insecurity is not limited to low-income households. In fact, approximately 27% of the study participants had an average monthly income of $2,000 and above. This suggests that financial constraints are not the sole cause of food insecurity in Singapore.

Food Insecurity Leads to Malnutrition

This widespread hunger in Singapore leads to a high rate of malnutrition, especially in children and the elderly population. ONE (SINGAPORE) reported that one in 10 Singaporeans lack sufficient access to essentials, including healthy and nutritious food. This makes access to healthy food an unattainable reality for many.

Malnutrition as a consequence of an unhealthy or insufficient diet creates even more health-related issues for at-risk populations. ONE (SINGAPORE)’s website reports that upwards of 23,000 children in Singapore are malnourished as a result of food insecurity. This is a staggering number for such an affluent country. Around one in three elderly Singaporeans are at risk of being malnourished. In 2015, about half of the elderly population admitted to hospitals “were eating poorly,” making them more vulnerable to medical complications and other adverse outcomes.

Food Support Systems: Lacking Coordination

Despite the abundance and diversity of food assistance groups in Singapore, including nonprofit organizations, charities, soup kitchens, Meals-on-Wheels providers and informal volunteer groups, many people experiencing food insecurity remain hungry. According to the Lien Center for Social Innovation, more than half of the survey participants who experienced severe food insecurity received infrequent or no support at all.

In spite of the support systems in place (approximately 125 in 2018), the results of this report suggest they may be inefficient in addressing Singapore’s hidden hunger. Some attribute the inefficiency to the lack of coordination between systems. Many of these food support groups operated independently and there was no information-sharing network in place. This often created more problems: duplication of assistance, food waste and in some cases, little to no aid. In order to better coordinate efforts, stronger communication between different food aid organizations is needed.

Finding Common Ground

In 2018, officers from the Ministry of Social and Family Development started engaging several food aid organizations informally. This created the foundation for a multi-agency workgroup in 2019 which brings together food support organizations and agencies. The purpose of this workgroup is to provide a platform for collaboration to end food insecurity and food waste in Singapore.

While the workgroup is still in its infancy, it has made headway in coordinating efforts among the groups. The stakeholders have worked together to address food waste by compiling a list of sources that are willing to contribute unwanted food. In addition, they are working to map food groups and their needs in order to eliminate duplication of assistance and sourcing issues. These efforts make Singapore’s food assistance programs more efficient and effective.

 

Many helping hands devoted to alleviating hidden hunger in Singapore. However, the lack of coordination among these well-intentioned groups sometimes leads to mismatches between the providers and the beneficiaries. By recognizing the “hidden hunger” in Singapore and coordinating governmental efforts, the nation and its charities may be able to more efficiently address food insecurity in the nation.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in SingaporeTo many, Singapore is an eccentric country with gleaming skyscrapers and a wealthy population. In essence, those with this vision are not wrong, seeing that the country is one of the wealthiest and most developed states in the world, simultaneously boasting the world’s highest concentration of millionaires. But, it is also home to the second-biggest inequality gap among advanced economies of Asia. Here, poverty is hidden. The top 10 facts about hunger in Singapore uncover the realities behind a country that many tend to overlook or simply ignore them.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Singapore

  1. Upwards of 23,000 children in Singapore are malnourished. Additionally, basic needs are inaccessible to 1 in 10 Singaporeans, including essentials such as food and shelter. But, the issue is larger than just putting food on the table and providing for the family. Access to healthy and nutritious food is not a reality for most, and consequently, such unhealthy diets lead to further health issues and chronic disease.
  2. Hidden hunger is real. Hidden hunger is when someone is suffering from malnutrition without feeling hunger. This has recently become a critical problem, specifically among migrant workers where the common food staple is rice. A diet reliant solely on rice, however, lacks adequate and essential nutrients, which leads to malnutrition. To combat this threatening social issue, an organization called BoP HUB is teaming up with a Dutch-based life sciences company by the name of DSM. The two organizations are focusing on fortifying rice, the Singaporean staple, so workers and those suffering from hidden hunger will have access to a nutritious alternative to regular rice, essentially turning meals from empty carbs to healthy carbs.
  3. Relative poverty is Singapore poverty. Relative poverty, more apparent in developed nations, regions and cities, is essentially the cutoff line for how much a household should be able to afford in terms of basic necessities. Even more so, relative poverty includes the monetary minimum needed to avoid “social exclusion.” In more developed nations, there are luxury goods that one can certainly live without, but, when lacking, will likely result in being socially marginalized and significantly limited in one’s career. Around 10-12 percent of households in Singapore fall below the basic living expenditure of $1,250 per month; however, 23-26 percent of households fall below the threshold of $3,000, the unwritten cutoff line that deems one to be either socially excluded or not.
  4. The complexity of poverty in Singapore is not understood. It is easy to assume that hunger doesn’t exist among the well-educated population of an affluent city-state, but unmet social needs are real and remain poorly understood. Associate Professor John Donaldson of the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Social Sciences states that “Singapore’s economy developed rapidly, and the ‘Third World’ form of poverty has disappeared. Yet, many people fall into a type of ‘First World’ poverty.” According to economists and statistics, between 10-14 percent of Singaporeans suffer from severe financial trouble and pressure and are often unable to meet basic needs. Ultimately, hunger remains one of the most prominent issues.
  5. The Food Bank of Singapore has accepted the challenge of eradicating hunger. This organization receives donations of surplus food from retailers, distributors and manufacturers. Despite losing commercial value, the foods are still safe to consume. With 800,000 meals delivered monthly, the Food Bank is helping to curb the tide of hunger and give Singapore’s forgotten an opportunity to thrive. Furthermore, the organization works to spread awareness about hunger and decrease the stigma for those in need.
  6. The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Singapore as the second-most food secure country in the world, behind only the United States. Based on affordability, availability and quality and safety, Singapore is ahead of major food-producing nations despite its heavy dependence on food imports. With only 1 percent of the land being dedicated to agriculture, Singapore must import 90 percent of the country’s food, yet they have found a way to secure food. Through the diversification of food sources, the economy and food security are not highly impacted by other nation’s economic decline because the variety of import countries allows for flexibility.
  7. Local food production has increased. The Agri-Food and Veterinary (AVA) and the Food Fund have allowed Singapore to increase its local vegetable production by 30 percent over the past decade. Upwards of 40 percent of local farms are benefiting from the help of investment in advancements and new farming techniques such as hydroponics.
  8. Rising obesity in children and young adults foretells an increase in diabetes. Rates for diabetes in adults have already risen from 8.6 percent in 1992 to 12.9 percent in 2015. As a result of working life and less physical activity, obesity has been rising at a faster rate for the population under 40 years of age. Moreover, people continue to eat the same amount of food, but without the benefit of physical activity to keep them in check.
  9. Malnutrition among the elderly is increasing. In 2015, Tan Tock Seng Hospital estimated that about 30 percent of the elderly population were at risk of malnutrition. In such a developed country, this is a surprise to many. Malnutrition in the elderly increases the risk of medical complications, including infections, fractures and compromised recovery and rehabilitation.
  10. The Sustainable Development Goals aim to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. This U.N. goal of “Zero Hunger” aims to eradicate food insecurity, providing sufficient and nutritious food to the population, especially the most vulnerable, all year round. The organization One Singapore is echoing this goal through foodbank programs working to eradicate poverty and hunger.

The top 10 facts about hunger in Singapore shine a light on the surprising challenges of malnutrition and poverty in a country of so much wealth. In forthcoming decades, there is hope that food security for the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and migrant workers – will increase. As a country with such a powerful reputation, it is vital to harbor awareness of the country’s struggles if such pervasive issues are to be alleviated.

Mary Grace Miller

Photo: Flickr