P-Noy shocked about hunger rate?

Published by rudy Date posted on April 13, 2011

When the new Social Weather Stations survey showed that more Filipinos were experiencing hunger and poverty under his administration, P-Noy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The nationwide survey that covered 1,200 respondents from March 4 to 7 showed that 20.5 percent of the families polled said they experienced hunger, and that 51 percent considered themselves poor.

It was unbelievable to P-Noy that there is now an almost five-percent increase from the 15.9 percent of households that reported experiencing hunger, and a three-percent increase from the 48 percent who considered themselves poor in September 2010, a few months after he came to power.

“Why is it like this when the Labor Department says more people are getting jobs and the business community is reporting that they are hiring more people? I cannot reconcile this,” P-Noy was quoted as saying.

Maybe he was just being naïve. Maybe Ateneo didn’t do a good job teaching him about statistics and surveys. Maybe he just wants to believe that his programs are quickly making a difference. But P-Noy’s shocked reaction was probably an honest one rather than an attempt to cover up official inadequacy.

Still, if he knows what is good for him and his hungry people, P-Noy should use the SWS data to institute an even better monitoring mechanism of administration programs so he can get to the hungry quicker. It was ill-advised for him to say the SWS survey was skewed because it failed to capture the benefits of the government’s conditional cash transfer program that provides monthly doles to 400,000 of the poorest families, mostly from the Visayas and Mindanao.

As it turned out, SWS did reflect changes in the South and not just Luzon as P-Noy claimed. Here is how Dr. Mahar Mangahas of SWS explained the hunger data:

“The present 20.5-percent national hunger rate consists of 15.7-percent moderate hunger (experienced either only once or a few times) and 4.7-percent severe hunger (experienced often or always). The estimated number of moderately hungry is 3.2 million families; the severely hungry are 950,000 families.

“This time, the problem of hunger is concentrated in Balance Luzon, hitting a new record-high 25 percent (2.2 million families), up from 18.3 percent last November 2010; the previous record high was 22.3 percent in September 2007.

“The new moderate-hunger percentage in Balance Luzon is 18.7, a new record-high versus the old one of 18.1 in March 2010. Its severe-hunger percentage is also a new record-high 6.3, versus the old one of six in December 2008.

“Thankfully, the hunger percentages fell in Metro Manila (from 21.7 in November to 20.7 in March), in the Visayas (from 15.3 to 14.7), and in Mindanao (from 18 to 16.7). But I should point out that this is the fourth consecutive quarter that Metro Manila hunger exceeds 20 percent. Metro Manila had its record high hunger at 27 percent in December 2009.”

Anyway, I am hoping that he will not follow Ate Glue’s normal response to attack the messenger of bad news. I hope P-Noy’s initial reaction of disbelief will not result in government attacking the credibility of SWS data. I hope he will consider the SWS results as an eye opener on the extent and gravity of the problem. We, on the other hand, should realize that miracles cannot be produced overnight on such a persistent problem.

Dr. Mangahas puts it well: “For the hunger problem to be systematically addressed, the very first step, in my view, is to open one’s eyes to the problem, using scientific data from all reliable public sources, official and private. It so happens that governmental surveys on hunger are skimpy and irregular, done only every few years, the last one being in 2008 if my memory is right.

“SWS has now surveyed hunger 53 times, quarterly since July 1998. The running averages of 1998-2011 are 13.8-percent total hunger, 10.4-percent moderate hunger, and 3.4-percent severe hunger. To date, the lowest point of total hunger was 5.1 percent in September 2003, and the peak was 24 percent in December 2009.”

The other thing that P-Noy must realize is the need to have another monitoring mechanism to check how effectively his officials are implementing such pet projects as the cash transfer program. Just because money is flowing out of the Treasury to the CCT program doesn’t mean poverty and hunger are being alleviated. He has to make sure Swiss bank accounts are not being fattened instead.

He may completely trust Sec. Dinky but the DSWD is a large bureaucracy. Other than letting surveys like this one on poverty throw some light on the state of things, P-Noy must have an audit mechanism in place that can provide him a picture independent of the cabinet member in charge.

For now, there is no denying that hunger is an urgent concern and no one super program like the CCT can instantly reverse the problem. According to Dr. Mangahas, “the scientific way to discover effective means for fighting hunger and poverty is to do correlation analysis with adequate data. So far, such analysis has identified the key determinants as inflation in general, and food price inflation in particular. Unemployment has only a slight correlation, and growth in per capita Gross Domestic Product has none at all.”

P-Noy must fine tune his anti-poverty programs with the help of a multi-disciplinary group of experts who do not have to depend on government employment for a living. P-Noy can, for now, be forgiven for his surprised reaction to data revealing a worsening awful truth. For now, I guess it is ok lang provided he learned something useful. –Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star)

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