Record hunger in the Philippines as Covid restrictions bite

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Manila (AFP)

Daniel Auminto lost his job and then his home when the coronavirus pandemic put the Philippines on lockdown. Now he and his family live on the streets, relying on food distribution to survive.

Charities are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand for food as millions of families go hungry across the country.

Covid-19 restrictions have crippled the economy and thrown many unemployed.

“I’ve never seen hunger at this level before,” said Jomar Fleras, executive director of Rise Against Hunger in the Philippines, which works with more than 40 partners to feed the poor.

“If you go there, everyone will tell you that they are more afraid of starving than dying of Covid. They don’t care about Covid anymore.

The number of hungry people hit an all-time high during the pandemic, according to pollster Social Weather Stations.

Almost a third of families – or 7.6 million households – did not have enough food to eat at least once in the previous three months, according to its September survey.

Among them, 2.2 million families were experiencing “severe hunger” – the highest on record.

The numbers have been rising since May, two months after the country entered a severe lockdown – reversing a downward trend since 2012.

Virus restrictions have been relaxed in recent months to allow more businesses to operate as the government seeks to revive the devastated economy, which is expected to shrink 9.5% this year.

For the country’s legions of poor people, the pandemic is just one more challenge in their lives – and not even the most serious.

Auminto, 41, has spent years sleeping on the streets and making a living selling waste for recycling. His fortunes changed in 2019 when he found a stable job as a house painter.

This gave him enough money to rent a room in Manila, which he shared with his wife and their two-year-old daughter, buy food, and even save some for their dream of opening a small store.

Then Covid-19 struck.

“We lost our house, my job. We even lost our clothes that were stolen from us, ”Auminto said as he sat in a park where the family sleeps on a flattened cardboard box at night.

Before the pandemic “I planned to work and get out of poverty. It’s for my family, so I can give them a better life, send my child to school. ”

Every day, they join long lines of mostly homeless people to receive a free meal in an outdoor pantry.

Some days the family receives two meals in different pantries; other days it’s just one. Sometimes they have no food at all.

– ‘Live like pigs’ –

Five days a week, volunteers at a center in Manila run by the Society of the Roman Catholic Order of the Divine Word prepare around a thousand meals of chicken, vegetables and rice which are boxed and given to the hungry. .

The demand is constantly increasing, said Father Flavie Villanueva, who heads the program.

“We started doing this in April and started with 250 (people in line). It went down to 400, then 600, then 800. Three weeks ago it was 1,000, ”Villanueva said.

“The majority are still homeless, but there are a good number who are with housing but are desperate because there are no jobs. ”

Hunger was already a major problem in the Philippines before the pandemic struck.

About 59 million people were “moderately or severely food insecure” between 2017 and 2019 – the highest in Southeast Asia – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a report.

The virus’s impact on hunger has been exacerbated by a series of typhoons that have hit the country in recent months, destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Fleras said food donations have skyrocketed during the pandemic, in part because many factories forced to suspend operations ditched their excess stock. But that’s not enough to meet demand.

“We could reach 200,000 families this year,” he said.

Auminto said it was “painful” to have lost everything and to be back on the streets where he says the police are treating them “like animals”.

“They should understand our situation, not treat us like pigs,” he said.

“We are already living like pigs. ”

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