The SWS history of hunger | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

The SWS history of hunger

/ 05:10 AM August 24, 2019

It was in July 1998, after seeing successive media reports of serious hunger in the country, particularly in Mindanao, that SWS first put the topic of hunger in one of its quarterly Social Weather Surveys.

The SWS survey question on hunger-experience, after pretesting, was amended to include the phrase “and had nothing to eat,” when our field workers asked for clarification on whether to include hunger among people who were fasting for religious or health reasons. The qualifier makes it clear that the survey covers involuntary hunger only.


The survey question is addressed to the household head, who is asked about the experience of the family (rather than his/her individual experience) in the past three months.

The July 1998 survey found involuntary hunger in 9 percent of families nationwide, and in over 15 percent of Mindanao families in particular. Alarmed by the Mindanao figure, we decided to maintain hunger on our quarterly agenda.


As of June 2019, there are now 22 years of hunger data in the SWS survey archive. Yesterday (8/23/19), I spoke on the history of hunger at the “End Hunger Summit” of Gawad Kalinga at Ateneo de Manila University.

After fluctuating between 7 and 11 percent of families in 1998-2004, national hunger went decidedly double-digit thereafter. It even rose to over 20 percent in 2009-14, a period I call the hump in hunger. Fortunately, the quarterly average subsided to 13 percent in 2015. Nevertheless, the latest hunger rate of 10 percent, in June 2019, is no better than the initial hunger rate in July 1998. By the way, one percentage point is 200,000+ households.

By design, the SWS surveys have separate, equal-quality, data for four areas: National Capital Region, the Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Every area has had times when hunger was over 25 percent. Mindanao in particular has had 30+ percent. Yet, sometimes NCR is the “hungriest”; and so, the geographical pattern of hunger is not fixed, but variable.

SWS started monitoring Self-Rated Poverty earlier, in 1992, and constantly examines the relation of hunger to poverty. At any point in time, the hungry proportion of the poor is always above that of the nonpoor. But these proportions are not fixed—so if hunger rises among both the poor and the nonpoor, national hunger might rise even if the poverty incidence falls.

In addition to Self-Rated Poverty, SWS has been monitoring Self-Rated Food Poverty, off and on in 1988-2000, quarterly since 2001. The food-poor are those who regard their food as mahirap, which could describe the quality and/or quantity of their food. Naturally, hunger is always worse among the food-poor than among the nonfood-poor, at a point in time. It is also always worse among the food-poor than among the simply-poor.

SWS also regularly surveys the Self-Rated Poverty Threshold and the Self-Rated Food Poverty Threshold. The former is the monthly budget that the poor say they need for home expenses in order not to feel poor. The latter is what the food-poor need specifically for food in order not to consider it poor.

We have accompanying data on the poverty gap and the food poverty gap. The first is the difference between what the poor family needs and what it presently has, so as not to feel poor. The second is the difference between what the food-poor family needs and what it presently has, for its food not to be poor.


Hunger is more closely related to the food poverty gap. In June 2019, the median monthly food poverty gap in NCR was P3,000, while the median food poverty threshold was P9,000. In Balance Luzon, the gap was P2,000 versus the threshold of P6,000. In Visayas, it was P2,000 versus P5,000. In Mindanao, it was P4,000 versus P8,000. Thus, the food poverty gaps are quite significant.

Hunger does not stand still. Observing its history is key to learning how to prevent it and cope with it.

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TAGS: hunger, Metro Manila, Mindanao, surveys, SWS
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