Despite growth, PHL not seen to hit SDG goal of zero hunger

Published by rudy Date posted on November 5, 2018

By Cai Ordinario, Business Mirror, Nov 5, 2018

THE country’s economic success has not brought it any closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger, according to a study released by four United Nations agencies.

The report entitled “Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition” was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The UN agencies said stunting in the Philippines is over 30 percent, which is deemed a “very high prevalence,” while wasting in the country is between 5 and 10 percent, of the population, which is of medium prevalence.

“The situation is similarly challenging in nutrition and health areas, where a large majority of countries in the region risk missing the SDG and World Health Assembly targets. These developments in food security and nutrition are at odds with the region’s continuing high level of economic growth,” the regional heads of the four UN agencies wrote in their joint foreword.

The report stated that while economic growth, particularly higher levels of per capita income, has helped improve nutrition, relying on economic growth and higher incomes is insufficient.

While the Philippines’s performance was still above expectations, the average annual rate of reduction in the prevalence of stunting in the country was slow and closer to flat growth.

The report stated that countries like Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam did better in reducing stunting among Asia- Pacific economies.

The incidence of wasting among children under five years old in Southeast Asia, which includes the Philippines, needs to be reduced by 44 percent—or 2.3 million
children—to meet the target.

The four UN agencies cited a study in 2016 which found that the key drivers of child stunting were “poor dietary quality and quantity for children under two years, poor nutrition of women before and during pregnancy, and poor sanitation and hygiene practices in households and communities.”

The report added that “primary importance of both good maternal nutrition and appropriate child-feeding practices with timely introduction of diverse complementary foods” were also needed to prevent stunting.

“Wasting and stunting share several common causes, including poor maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy, poor diets of young children, poor personal hygiene, poor household sanitation, and household poverty,” the report stated.

Data made available by the report showed the coverage of 90+ iron folic acid supplements among pregnant women in the country was only 34 percent.

This may have contributed to the slight reduction recorded by WHO in the prevalence of anemia in women of reproductive age in Asia between 2012 and 2016, as indicated in the report.

The report explained during pregnancy, women should receive iron folic acid supplementation within the first trimester and for a minimum of 90 days to prevent anemia.

“The receipt of any iron folic acid supplementation and the receipt of 90+ days of iron folic acid supplementation are global indicators used to track progress in anemia reduction,” the UN agencies said.

Apart from these, water and sanitation also play important roles in improving nutrition nationwide. However, the performance of the country has remained lackluster.

The agencies noted that in the Philippines, there are 57 million Filipinos who do not have piped water supply within the premises of their households.

While this is nowhere near the gap in India where 742 million people do not have piped water supply in their premises, this still makes the country part of the top 10 countries with the most number of people lacking piped water supply in the Asia-Pacific region.

Data also showed that in terms of sanitation, less than 80 percent of Filipinos have access to basic sanitation services. This means over 20 percent of Filipinos do not have basic sanitation services.

The report said there are 6 million Filipinos who continue to practice open defecation, the same as Cambodia. India has the most number of open defecators at 522 million followed by Indonesia with 22 million.

The UN agencies cited various reasons this practice persists: traditional practices, least priority for households, and lack of knowledge about the health risks. Poverty and urbanization has also contributed to this problem.

“The percent of people practicing open defecation has actually increased recently in China, India and the Philippines,” the report stated.

“Open defecation in urban areas is driven by a lack of space to build toilets in high-density settlements and an unwillingness of tenants to invest in toilets where landlords do not provide them,” it added.

This is the first time that the four UN agencies responsible for helping countries in Asia and the Pacific achieve food security, improve maternal and child health and welfare, have jointly published such a report.

Their joint efforts underline the urgency of the present situation and represents a united front and call to action in urging governments to show greater resolve in meeting previous commitments to end hunger and improve food security and nutrition across the region.

The four UN agencies summarize the report’s findings: “What is becoming increasingly clear is that the world cannot meet the 2030 target of zero hunger if Asia and the Pacific— the world’s most populous region—is not leading the way. It is a hard reality but one that must be faced with a united determination to turn things around.”

The report concludes with a cautious note of optimism. “Together, we hope that the findings of this report will contribute to a more informed dialogue. Without doubt, all stakeholders must make much greater efforts to accelerate progress toward the goals of a healthy and hunger-free Asia and the Pacific but their action is needed now. The sense of urgency cannot be overstated.”

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