LGU battle vs hunger rages on

photograph by alfonso padilla for the daily tribune @tribunephl_al

As the Philippines braced for the uncertain when the coronavirus disease pandemic first reached the country, local government units scrambled to ensure the safety of their constituents from the deadly respiratory disease.

The national government – led by then President Rodrigo Duterte – put up measures to help minimize infections in the country. A move that the administration came up with was the imposition of lockdowns in the country.

Duterte then ordered the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine – which required the suspension of classes, temporary closure of non-essential businesses and enterprises, setting up of checkpoints at every entry and exit points, and for people to stay home.

Photograph courtesy of DA
National Capital Region city mayors are encouraged to avail of the Enhanced KADIWA ni Ani at Kita Financial Grant Assistance Program of the Department of Agriculture-Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service to ensure availability, affordability, and accessibility of basic agricultural commodities during the community quarantine period.

The year 2020 left the people wondering what would happen, as actions were restricted, and work was limited, while earning a living to survive was difficult for many of the people.

Hunger was one of the most potent problems that the lockdowns caused, and malnutrition was just as prevalent with people nowhere to go to get food because of the strict implementation of quarantine protocols.

Photograph by Rio Deluvio for the Daily Tribune @tribunephl_rio

It was then that local government units stepped up by providing food packs or relief goods to their respective constituents, which usually contained rice, instant noodles, biscuits, sardines or other canned food.

Fortunately, some LGUs in Region 9 such as Zamboanga City, Isabela City, and the Municipality of Kabasalan in Zamboanga Sibugay promote good nutrition by including fresh vegetables and fish in their rations.

The local government in the municipality of Kabasalan in Zamboanga Sibugay added fresh vegetables and fish to the food packs distributed in its locality. Kabasalan LGU’s strategy was to buy these from local farmers and Fisherfolk, which not only ensured that every household was given healthy and nutritious food, but also improved income of local farmers and fisherfolk, during quarantine.

Photographs by Alfonso Padilla for the Daily Tribune

Another local government unit, Isabela City in Basilan, distributed vegetable seedlings and assorted vegetable seeds to encourage backyard gardening during quarantine as it promoted home gardening that would not only promote family bonding, but also help the family have fresh, homegrown vegetables for healthy and nutritious food.

The Zamboanga City government, on the other hand, launched the Kadiwa on Wheels, which visited and served the different barangays in the city.

The Kadiwa on Wheels is a joint project of the DA, BFAR, NFA, and City Agriculture Office of the LGU of Zamboanga City. It is a container truck filled with fresh farm products including vegetables, fruits, fresh and dried fish, and fresh cut flowers from the local farmers.

Hunger interventions

For the local government units as a whole to have a measurable and sustained impact on stunting, a very large number of the more than 1,500 LGUs should be providing the whole continuum of nutrition interventions to the target population of mothers and young children.

Major gaps include maternal nutrition during pregnancy; complementary feeding of infants; continuous monitoring of children’s growth and development in rural health units; and provision of other health interventions.

Photo Caption; July 23, 2022 — City Government of Pasay City at sa tulong ng Pasay Social Welfare and Development ( PSWD ) patuloy namimigay ng mga Pagkain sa Bawat Brgy ng nasasakupan ng FEEDING PROGRAM at ng partnership Rise against Hunger Kain Tayo Mobile Kitchen Food Bank Operation. Dito sa gilid ng umaga sa Cuneta Astrodome Roxas Blvd Pasay City. Dito makikita natin kung gaano kasabik ito mga Bata Kumain ng masarap ng ulam. Para ba ngayon lang sila makakatikim ng ganun pagkain mula nagkaroon Pandemya sa Lungsod. Kaya ito Nanay ipinila niya ang mga anak niya. Para makatikim ng sarap ng ulam. Kahit meron siya itinitinda pan lamig ng Melo. dito sa harap ng Cuneta Astrodome Roxas Blvd Road service Pasay City ( AL PADILLA )

At the height of the pandemic, municipalities faced three common problems in the implementation of nutrition interventions, particularly when faced with a high prevalence of childhood undernutrition: Insufficient budget for nutrition programs, absence of a full-time municipal nutrition action officer, and scarcity of health personnel.

Previously, the National Nutrition Council had called on local government unit officials to prioritize nutrition in their Devolution Transition Plan for the implementation of the Mandanas-Garcia Supreme Court ruling.

Implementation of nutrition programs and projects is one of the devolved functions of LGUs, as provided under the Local Government Code of the Philippines. This is further strengthened by the Mandanas-Garcia ruling which fully devolves the delivery of basic services to LGUs, wherein the Internal Revenue Allotment share will also increase.
The Council said the devolution transition period is 2022-2024 and the Department of Budget and Management is already releasing funds to the LGUs for their DTPs starting this year.
It also lamented that nutrition is not a priority in many LGUs and another concern in implementing effective local nutrition action plans is the lack of personnel that is fully dedicated for nutrition programs and projects.

Thus, LGUs must grab the opportunity to include in their DTPs the creation of a local nutrition office, as well as the hiring of personnel for such office. Hiring of personnel for LGU nutrition program implementations is also justified under the DTP of the Department of Health.

National and regional concern

Malnutrition remains a concern at the regional and national levels especially on poor early nutrition during pregnancy and childhood. The long-term impact on children includes poor cognitive performance, immunity and work performance.

For the economic impact, this results in an unproductive workforce that also affects the Gross Domestic Product, which, based on a study, is estimated at 3 percent economic losses per annum.

Heightened nutrition action plans and programs, including the creation of a local nutrition office and hiring of needed nutrition action personnel, must be included in the Devolution Transition Plan, as once the transition period ends in 2024, it will be harder for LGUs to allocate funds and request for plantilla positions.

Challenge to local officials

Local government units are now facing the perennial problem of hunger, and implementation of nutrition policy needs to be improved to address undernutrition among Filipino children.
Local governments are key to implementing such laws. However a limited understanding of nutrition poses a huge challenge among public officials.
One solution seen is for heads of local governments to establish targets addressing nutritional issues to guide the investment of resources into programs with specific goals. Current programs should also be coordinated.

Stunting problem

The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded high rates of food insecurity and stunted growth among Filipino children, according to the World Bank.

“The Philippines has the basic infrastructure to deliver essential nutritional investments to its people. But the delivery mechanisms are fragmented, and gaps may have widened as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

Childhood stunting in the Philippines is at 30 percent, making it one of the top 10 countries for this particular indicator, it added.

“The country’s rate of stunting is high, not only for its level of income but also compared with the rates of most of its neighbors. Other countries with similar levels of income have rates of stunting averaging around 20 percent,” WB added.

It also pointed out that nutrition is rarely a priority for local government units that focus on other infrastructure projects, leaving non-government organizations to fund nutrition programs.

“Increasing the budget allocation and providing a separate budget for nutrition would demonstrate strong support for the nutrition agenda of the LGUs,” WB said. “Both executive and legislative bodies in the municipalities need to prioritize and vigorously support nutrition interventions.”

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