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Social Climate

Stubborn hunger

/ 10:50 PM August 16, 2013

“Hunger worsens,” said BusinessWorld’s headline the other day (8/15/2013), comparing national proportions of hungry families in the two latest quarterly surveys of Social Weather Stations: 22.7 percent in June 2013 versus 19.2 percent in March 2013.

This 3.5 point increase in hunger over one quarter is statistically significant; more so is the 6.4 point increase from two quarters ago.  Thus, the highly touted rapid growth of GDP in the first two quarters this year didn’t help the hungry.

Geographically, the hunger increase is not uniform. Over the first two quarters of 2013, it rose by 2.0 points in the National Capital Region, 11.3 points in the Balance of Luzon, and 6.0 points in the Visayas.  But it fell by 12.2 points in Mindanao.  The rise in the Balance of Luzon and the fall in Mindanao are both statistically significant.


Spikes in the cost of living, especially in prices of food, are the most important factors that can make hunger and poverty fluctuate in the space of months.  Next in importance are underemployment and unemployment.  The natural disasters that periodically strike various parts of the country are critical for people on the verge of survival.  Armed conflicts and consequent internal displacement also matter, but hopefully these can soon be lessened, with peace within sight in the Bangsamoro.

The busiest researcher into the short-run (quarterly) relationships of hunger and poverty to other factors is Dr. Dennis Mapa, professor of statistics and economics at the University of the Philippines, and a Fellow of SWS.  Together with key government officials, he is regularly alerted about new SWS figures on hunger and poverty, even before publication.  I quote here, with his permission, his text of Thursday afternoon:

“I downloaded the inflation rates of the poorest 30 percent from the NSO [National Statistics Office] and it showed a spike from 2.8 percent in 2012 to 3.3 (average) in 2013.  Moreover, FBT [food-beverages-tobacco] inflation increased during the second quarter in NCR, north and

central Luzon (compared to 1st quarter).  It dropped in most of Visayas and Mindanao.”

It is not enough to look only one quarter back in time. In 2012, the quarterly hunger percentages had been 16.3 in December, 21.0 in August, 18.4 in May, and 23.8 in March (the record high since 1998), for an average of 19.9 for the year.

Indeed, one should look back further than a year.  The previous annual average percentages were 19.9 in 2011, 19.1 in 2010, 19.1 again in 2009, 18.5 in 2008, 17.9 in 2007, 16.7 in 2006, 14.3 in 2005, 11.8 for 2004, 7.0 in 2003, 10.1 in 2002, 11.4 in 2001, 10.8 in 2000, 8.3 in 1999, and 11.0 in 1998, when SWS began tracking hunger, 15 years ago.  The average for the entire series of 62 surveys is 14.7 percent.

Thus, hunger is stubbornly high.  After hovering in the relatively benign vicinity of 10 percent in 1998-2003, the quarterly rate rose into the ’teens by June 2004, and first reached 20 percent in September 2007.  Since 2009, it has hit the 20s about twice a year.

Hunger rose while self-rated poverty fell. How could there be a rise in the hunger rate, and the same time a fall in the poverty rate, over the same period (see my column “Reading poverty news,” Inquirer, 8/10/2013)?   Measuring hunger together with poverty every quarter also teaches us that the two are not linked by fixed proportions.  Yes, hunger is always worse among the poor, but the hungriness of the poor can change, upward or downward, over time.  (To those who think this cannot be, I say: Survey hunger and poverty in any manner yourselves, as long as you do it quarterly, and then compare your findings to ours.)


The 22.7 percent hungry in June 2013 was due to 33.4 percent hunger among the poor, and 12.6 percent hunger among the nonpoor.   On the other hand, the 19.2 percent hungry in March 2013 was due to only 25.5 percent hunger among the poor, and 12.2 percent hunger among the nonpoor.  Thus, hunger among the poor grew so much that it more than compensated for the fall in the poverty rate itself.

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What SWS asks the respondent-household heads is, firstly, whether their families experienced hunger at least once in the three months prior to interview due to having nothing to eat, i.e., not due to voluntary fasting.  This is quite different from “claiming to have experienced having nothing to eat in the last three months,” as phrased by BW, which if literally true would have left no respondent alive.  The general hunger rate corresponds to the “yes” answers.

SWS follows up the hunger cases by asking if it happened only once, a few times, often or always. Answers of only once and a few times are called moderate hunger; answers of often and always are called severe hunger.  The SWS questions for surveying hunger have never changed.

The June 2013 general hunger percentage of 22.7 consisted of 17.3 in moderate hunger and 5.4 in severe hunger.  The 3.5 point one-quarter rise in general hunger was due to a 1.7 rise in moderate hunger and a 1.8 rise in severe hunger.

Area-wise, the moderate hunger percentages were 18.0 in NCR, 18.3 in the Balance of Luzon, 18.3 in the Visayas, and 14.0 in Mindanao.  The severe hunger percentages were 5.7 in NCR, 7.7 in the Balance of Luzon, 2.7 in the Visayas, and 3.0 in Mindanao—up by 1.4 in NCR, 5.0 in Balance of Luzon, and 1.4 in the Visayas, but down by 3.7 in Mindanao, compared to March 2013. (See the SWS website for all details cited here, plus charts and tables.)

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TAGS: hunger, Mahar Mangahas, opinion, Social Climate, survey, SWS
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