“Families living in urban poor communities provide and feed their families with the meagre income they earn. Most of these families subsist on noodles and rice to get by.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
RELATED STORY: Ph ranks 9th among countries with most stunted children
MANILA – Rommel Roxas, 43, whose family lives in the streets of Intramuros, Manila is having noodles and rice for lunch. He takes a break from his work as a barker, and eats with his family. Roxas earns less than P300 ($6.50) a day. His wife Maritess (not her real name), meanwhile, sells candies and earns about P200 ($4.30) a day. They have five children.
“Kulang pa yun, umuutang pa nga kami para lang makakain yung mga bata,” Roxas told Bulatlat.com. (That is hardly enough. We have to borrow so the children would be able to eat.)
His youngest son, Jayson, is eight years old but he only looks like five.
A recent study by the Save the Children in the Philippines shows that there are 3.6 million stunted children in the country, like Jayson. Stunting is a result of chronic malnutrition. The study said poverty is the underlying cause of malnutrition.
The Philippines ranked ninth among countries with the highest burden of stunting worldwide.
“Economic gains, therefore, should be translated to considerable poverty reduction in order to have a substantial effect on household’s capacity to access basic needs for food and nutrition,” the report read.
Citing the Annual Poverty Indicator Survey (Apis), Save the Children’s country director Ned Olney said at the launch of the report, that poverty incidence has increased, from 25 percent in 2013, to 26 percent in 2014.
He also cited the Asian Development Bank study in 2009 which characterize poverty reduction in the Philippines as slow and uneven compared to its neighboring countries in Asia.
Gerardo Bayugo, assistant secretary for the Office of Technical Services at the Department of Health (DOH), said government recognizes the importance of child’s health and nutrition. He said the nutritional status of children under age five is one of the major factors that affect child mortality.
He said the DOH is working with other agencies and organizations, for a “comprehensive, proactive and holistic approach” in reducing the malnutrition of children under five years old.
Bayugo cited the DOH’s maternal health programs which train barangay health workers to profile pregnant women during their first trimester, so that nutritional supplementation can be started. Free supplements such as folic acid, vitamin A, ferrous sulphate, multivitamins are provided for underprivileged pregnant women.
Deworming is also consistently implemented in the past years in public schools to avoid parasitic infection.
However, Bayugo admitted that a lot of work still needs to be done.
These programs are not evident, Carlito Badion, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) secretary general said. In his 15 years in an urban poor community in Montalban, Rizal, he said, he did not know of any government program addressing malnutrition. He said there were only two circumstances when the local government came to their community, and that was only to give vitamin A drops to children below three years old.
“Families living in urban poor communities provide and feed their families with the meagre income they earn. Most of these families subsist on noodles and rice to get by,” Badion told Bulatlat.com.
Badion explained that most urban poor families have no regular job. Like Roxas, Badion said, many urban poor survive each day through diskarte (grabbing any opportunity to earn). He added that with the high prices of basic commodities, they can only afford to eat less nutritious foods, if at all.
For the child’s rights advocacy group Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, longterm solutions are needed to end poverty, and subsequently malnutrition.
Kharlo Manano, Salinlahi secretary general, said dole-out programs such as Conditional Cash Transfer program or feeding programs in public schools can only do so much but will not end hunger.
“As long as the parents are poor, so are their children,” Manano told Bulatlat.com. He explained that children may benefit from feeding programs, but they will still go home to their poor family where food is scarce. With the lack of well-paying and stable jobs, he said, many poor parents are unable to bring nutritious food to the table, along with answering other needs, such as schooling.
He reaffirmed the Save the Children’s report that malnourishment of Filipino children is deeply rooted in poverty. He pressed for national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform, which will provide jobs, and will raise food productivity toward food security that will end hunger.
Save the Children also called on the government, as well as civil society, to push and sustain equitable nutrition policies and programs with appropriate budgetary allocations to address the immediate, underlying and basic causes of malnutrition.
But for a street dweller like Roxas, prospects of government action are dim. “Even if I plead to the government, nothing will happen. We have been living in poverty ever since and life is even difficult now,” he said.