EDITORIAL - Hunger in the pandemic
EDITORIAL - Hunger in the pandemic
(The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Since the start of the pandemic quarantines, those who lost their jobs and livelihoods have lamented that if they didn’t die of coronavirus disease 2019, they would die of hunger. Malacañang has stressed that the government is addressing this problem, through a combination of direct cash assistance and measures to gradually reopen the economy.

The efforts, however, are not enough, as the COVID-19 contagion persists and the lack of a vaccine or cure compels governments to retain various levels of lockdowns. In the latest nationwide survey conducted by pollster Social Weather Stations Inc., involuntary hunger incidence stood at a record 30.7 percent – a jump from the previous high of 23.8 percent recorded in March 2012.

The 30.7 percent translates into approximately 7.6 million households. The survey was conducted by mobile phone from Sept. 17 to 20 among 1,249 Filipinos aged 18 years old and above.

As polled by SWS, hunger incidence has been on the rise since December 2019, when the rate stood at 8.8 percent. Amid the pandemic, the figure soared to 20.9 percent in July this year. In the latest survey, SWS noted increases in Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao. SWS said the Visayas registered the highest rise from 27.2 percent in July to 40.7 percent this September.

The hunger survey comes on the heels of another SWS poll in June, which showed eight out of 10 Filipinos believing that their quality of life got worse over the past 12 months. It was the worst trend in the nearly four-decade history of the survey.

Around the world, governments have been struggling to balance the needs of public health and the economy. Some countries have responded better, with the early imposition of controls on the entry of travelers from abroad and enforcement of the public health protocols recommended by the experts, notably wearing of masks, physical distancing of at least a meter, and regular washing or disinfection of hands and surfaces.

Economies can be reopened only if there is sufficient capability for COVID testing, contact tracing, quarantine and treatment. In the absence of a COVID vaccine or cure, the only way for the economy to further reopen and consequently for involuntary hunger to be reduced is to boost those capabilities. The country still has a long way to go.

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