Rearranging menus-A A +A
Saturday, October 13, 2012
SA tiempo sa kagutom, walay dautang can-on, the Visayan proverb says. “In times of hunger, there is no bad food.”
This reality anchors World Food Day (WFD), which falls on Oct. 16. The Philippines and other UN Food and Agriculture Organization member-countries established WFD in 1979. Since then, WFD is marked in 150 countries.
Social Weather Station’s October report reminds us of WFD’s relevance. Nationwide, 4.3 million households (21 percent) “experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months.” Overall hunger stayed at 17.3 percent (est. 670,000 families) in the Visayas.
Between 2007 and 2008, grain prices doubled. UN tracked a 17 percent price surge. In September. “That left more people hungry than any time in history,” Earth Institute’s Lester Brown notes.
Affluent Cebuanos rearranged their menus. But the poor already spend 50-70 percent of income on food. The only option is to skip meals. Almost 24 percent of families, in India, now go through foodless days. For Nigerians, it is 27 percent, 14 percent for Peruvians.
Hunger often bears a child’s face. Here, 21 out of every 100 infants have low weight at birth. Wasting and stunting (32 percent) result when kids are nursed by wizened, malnourished mothers.
“Poor nutrition contributes to more than a third of under-five deaths,” says Unicef’s “State of the World Children 2012.”
In Eastern Visayas, 53 out of 1,000 infants die before reaching age 5, the National Statistics Office reports. This region, recorded the highest infant mortality rate (IMR) and under five mortality rate (U-5MR) in the 2011 Family Health Survey.
“The numbers dull our sensitivities,” the late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali observed. “The nakedness of human need, the aching for redress from social injustice never quite get to us. We come to accept these distortions as ‘normal.’”
“Thus human needs do not wring from us the compassion that expresses itself in commitment. We do not see Lazarus at the gate.”
Some of hunger’s raw pain has been eased by President Benigno Aquino’s Conditional Cash Transfer program. It provides families cash grants of P1,400--provided they keep children in school and have them vaccinated and kept in other health programs. Cebu families are among 3.08 million household-beneficiaries.
Impressed by CCT’s impact, World Bank, Australian Agency for International Development and Asian Development Bank are providing additional support until 2015. That is when this temporary program phases out.
That is also when men and women, who till slivers of land or fish our depleted coastal waters, are seen for what they are: the only ones who can provide a permanent solution to hunger.
Ironically, they’re locked into subsistence treadmills by elite political dynasties. They’re denied access to tools for production, but above all, a just share from their work. As a result, their lives are truncated by disease, lack of schooling and limited hope.
Development breaks forth only when needs of the poorest are met, and their right to craft decisions that shape their lives are fully secured. This is not a question of charity but of justice.
Hunger cannot be wished away. It yields grudgingly only before the most determined of efforts. Also, there will be resistance from elites. There is a surfeit of grandiose plans. But lack of effective implementation at the farm or fishing village level.
Token reforms will further impoverish the poorest. They exacerbate deep-seated grievances. In a food crisis, time is not on the side of the poor.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 14, 2012.