NEDA Regional Directors Ro-Ann Bacal, Efren Carreon, and Bonifacio Uy of Western, Central, and Eastern Visayas, who also are the Vice-Chairpersons of the Regional Development Council were invited to make a presentation on the hunger incidence and unemployment status of their regions during the 54th Cabinet Assistance Staff meeting on 9 October 2020, presided by Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles.  The invitation was an offshoot of the SWS Study which point to the Visayas area as the most problematic when it comes to hunger and unemployment.

For her part, RD Bacal shared the 2018 statistics in Region VI on the annual per capita food threshold for a family of five which was estimated at PHP16,987.  The proportion of families earning below this threshold over the total number of families gives the subsistence incidence or the food poor families.  Data shows a declining incidence 2.7 percent compared to 5.4 percent in 2015 and 4.2 percent of food poor population for 2018 vis-à-vis the 8.1 percent in 2015.

She then discussed the impact of hunger on children in Western Visayas. The National Nutrition Council reported that in 2019, six percent or 42,213 children below five years old were stunted (below standards for height-for-age), and two percent or 13,202 of these children were severely stunted.  Among schoolchildren over 5 years old, 21 percent (224,320) were stunted and seven percent (72,613) were severely stunted. Antique had the highest incidence of stunting among children below five at 11.97 percent, while Negros Occidental recorded the highest incidence of stunting among children over five at 35.29 percent.

Moreover, two percent (13,445) of children below 5 years old were wasted (below standards for weight-for-age) and one percent (4,744) were severely wasted.  Among the schoolchildren, 11 percent were wasted and 4 percent were severely wasted.  Capiz recorded the highest prevalence of wasting at 22.79 percent.

RD Bacal presented the need for increasing the number of nutritionists in the region as one way to address the concern on stunting and wasting. The CY2019 nutritionist-population ratio in Western Visayas is 1:253,438, or ten-fold to the standard 1:20,000 ratio.  This will be the priority concern of the RDC-VI in the coming months and private sector collaboration will be mobilized for this concern.  She also shared the recommendations based on the Regional Plan of Action for Nutrition (RPAN) which covers the provision of technical and logistics support, a food production program to augment the family food supply, establishing functional nutrition committees in LGUs, integration of nutrition in the K-12 curriculum, ensure compliance to the expanded breastfeeding program, research, and continuation of the supplementary feeding program, among others.

Meantime, RD Bacal shared that the total labor force of the region was at 3.2 million, labor force participation rate at 60.8 percent, employment at 93.7 percent, unemployment at 6.3 percent and underemployment of 10.4 percent in July 2020.  Based on a report from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the top three industries in the region affected by the pandemic were: wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food service activities, and transportation and storage facilities.

The following recommendations were raised amid the current pandemic: the continued implementation and finishing of infrastructure projects with the hiring of local workers, provision of support to the agriculture and fisheries sector and the gradual but careful opening of agri-business and the economy; the redesigning of work spaces to observe physical distancing and ensure safety of workers; mobilization of agriculture extension workers from various agencies, LGUs, and state universities and colleges under the overall direction of the Department of Agriculture (DA) as the oversight agency; and the expeditious processing of business permits for new and renewing enterprises.

The CAS meeting participants discussed the importance of prioritizing food security, agri-fishery and livelihood assistance in the 2021 budget call. (IGPahila/NEDA VI)