The survey showed that hunger was a fact of life for 40 per cent of Filipinos in a country with one of the highest population growth rates in Asia and a population of about 90 million people, more than 60 per cent of whom live in and around urban area. The survey indicated that the hunger rate was highest in Metro Manila, where at least 550,000 families lacked food.
Gallup’s survey reflect a similar study conducted for the third quarter of the year by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), an independent survey organisation based in the Philippines.
According to the SWS 24-27 September survey, the number of families who experienced hunger at least once in the previous three months rose to 18 per cent or around 3.3 million households.
“The latest hunger record is six points above the ten-year average of 12.3 per cent, and is the highest in the four quarters after the record-high 21.5 per cent in September 2007,” SWS said in its survey analysis.
The hunger average for 2008 was 16.8 per cent, only slightly lower than the 2007 average of 17.9 per cent.
The measure of hunger refers to one or more episodes of involuntary lack of something to eat.
Like Gallup the SWS survey showed that more families experienced hunger in Metro Manila than anywhere else in the country.
Survey results also showed that hunger rose significantly all over Luzon Island, where Manila is located. It is now 20.0 per cent (estimated 1.6 million families) in Balance Luzon, eight points higher than in June.
In Mindanao it rose from 17.7 per cent in June to 18.3 in September (750,000 households).
Visayas, however, showed a decline of eight points, from 19.7 per cent in June to 11.7 per cent in the last survey (420.000 household).
Whilst admitting the prevalence of hunger in the country, Filipino Bishops are sceptical of the SWS survey.
“The topic on hunger is too vague to gauge. Although we can claim that malnutrition rate among children is rampant, we cannot generalize and echo claims that hunger per se is widespread too,” said Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros.
For his part, Mati Bishop Patricio Alo dismissed the survey findings, confirming none the less that hunger is an important problem in his own diocese in Davao Oriental province, Mindanao Island. In his opinion hunger can only be prevalent in conflict-laden regions, not nationwide.
Mgr Pedro Quitorio, media director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said that past pastoral statements by the CBCP have already pointed out the worsening poverty situation in the country. “As poverty worsens, so is hunger,” he said.
Quitorio however dispelled notions that the cause of poverty in the country is “over population.”
Many members of the Filipino Congress have said in the recent past that rising poverty can be halted if population growth is stopped through a tough policy of family planning.
Instead, echoing past CBCP statements, Monsignor Quitorio said that “the prominent cause of poverty and hunger is corruption in government.”
In reiterating the Bishops’ Conference’s position Bishop Oliveros urged the government to move on a concrete plan to address the worsening malnutrition and hunger situation in the country.
Even if the “survey holds true, the government should make concrete pro-poor programmes to make sure every household gets enough nutritious food to feed their family,” he said.