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Social Climate

A new hunger plateau

/ 10:14 PM October 28, 2011

The new SWS hunger report for the Third Quarter of 2011, first released in BusinessWorld last Thursday, was titled “Hunger bounces up to 21.5%.”

This is not “perceived” hunger. Since 1998, each SWS quarterly survey has asked the household head: “In the past three months, has it happened even once that your family experienced hunger and had nothing to eat?  If YES: Did it happen Only Once, A Few Times, Often, or Always?”  A household head is quite capable of answering this question correctly, since it concerns his/her own family and not any other people.

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In September 2011 there were 18.0 percent in “moderate hunger” (i.e., Only Once, A Few Times, and a few unstated frequencies) and 3.5 percent in “severe hunger” (i.e., Often or Always), or a total of 21.5 percent.

From July 1998 to the present, the average hunger rates, by category, are 10.6 percent in moderate hunger and 3.4 percent in severe hunger, or a total of 14.0 percent.

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Thus moderate hunger is currently 7.4 points above average. Severe hunger is currently only 0.1 point, or hardly anything, above average. Put together, total hunger is currently 7.5 points above average.

There have been successive bounces. The September 2011 hunger percentage of 21.5 was an upward bounce from 15.1 last June.  The June 2011 rate had fallen from 20.5 in March 2011, which in turn was a bounce originally from 15.9 two quarters earlier in September 2010, right after a fall from 21.1 in June 2010.

This bouncing reveals the volatility of hunger. A one-quarter bounce is not yet a trend. But what is a real trend? So as not to be distracted by quarterly volatility, one should consider the annual averages of the SWS percentages of households who recently experienced involuntary hunger, from the start of the data in 1998:

Average PH

Year          Hunger %

1998 (Q2, Q3, Q4) 11.4

1999      8.3

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2000    10.8

2001    11.4

2002    10.1

2003      7.0

2004    11.8

2005    14.3

2006    16.7

2007    17.9

2008    18.5

2009    19.2

2010    19.1

2011 (Q1, Q2, Q3) 19.0

1998-2011   14.0

The full average of 14.0 percent is a rough measure of the Philippine “hunger climate” over 13 years. The year-to-year percentages, on the other hand, describe the “hunger-weather.”

From hindsight, we can now appreciate the early years’ mild hunger-weather, particularly in 2003 which averaged only 7.0 percent (with a record-low 5.1 percent in September 2003).

However, from then on the hunger average rose each year, until reaching 19.2 percent in 2009 (with a record-high 24.0  percent in December 2009), despite the steady economic growth of 2003-2009, and the multibillion-peso losses of the National Food Authority.

With average percentages of 19.1 in 2010, and 19.0 thus far in 2011, it appears that hunger has been on a plateau for the past three years.  Whether this is a prelude to a decline, or a respite before rising further, is for forthcoming surveys to monitor.

What caused the recent bounce? The leader in econometric modeling of quarterly hunger, Dr. Dennis Mapa ([email protected]) of the UP School of Statistics, calls food-price inflation the primary factor, and underemployment a secondary one. By his estimates, shocks in either factor will affect hunger for up to three quarters afterwards – implying that those searching for explanations need a vantage point (i.e., data) capable of looking three quarters into the past, and not just at the latest quarter.

Of course, contemporaneous events such as typhoons and disruptions to peace and order which cause dislocations of people, are also relevant; they are incorporated in such models, ad hoc. By the way, it turns out that general economic growth has no relevance to changes in hunger.

A hunger bounce is not inconsistent with a rise in P-Noy’s popularity. The September 2011 SWS survey with the “bounced” hunger figure is the same one that showed President  Aquino’s net satisfaction rating rising to a “very good” +56, from a “good” +46 last June.

From June to September, the net rating of P-Noy by Filipino adults rose, regardless of the hunger status of the households to which the adults belong:
Jun 2011     Sep 2011

Total PH   +46  +56

No hunger   +47  +56

Moderate hunger  +42  +57

Severe hunger  +28  +34

In both points in time, satisfaction with the president is very much less among those in households in severe hunger than among those from households in moderate hunger; this makes sense.  At the same time, the satisfaction is almost the same among those in moderate hunger as among those not suffering from hunger.  Thus it is severe hunger, not moderate hunger, that affects P-Noy’s rating.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or [email protected]

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TAGS: hunger, Mahar Mangahas, opinion, research, Social Climate
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