Posted on 01 August 2014.
Barangay Health Workers traverse dangerous and slippery mountain roads on their way to conduct random sampling of households.
Atok, Benguet – Endless rows of vegetables greet the traveller to this scenic mountain town, located more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
The panoramic scenery of mountains shrouded in thick veils of fog and the piercing cold entice one to pause and bask in the serenity and peaceful ambiance.
Seeing an abundance of vegetables which city dwellers could only dream of, will lead visitors to conclude that the people living here are well-nourished.
However, this is not the case. A survey conducted by the local government unit (LGU) last March showed that more than 25% of children below five years old are stunted or too short for their age, using the growth standard for Filipinos.
One may wonder, why is this so, when there’s an abundance of sayote tops, pechay, cabbage, potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower, among others, planted in neat rows resembling terraces in the mountain side.
People get tired of eating vegetables. This is according to Dr. Demetria Bongga, former dean of the UP College of Home Economics and a consultant for the Early Warning System on Hunger and Food Insecurity (EWS-HFI), which is a tie-up project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the United Nations-World Food Program.
“Nakakasawa na, nakakaumay kung baga kung puro gulay na lang kakainin namin sa araw-araw (It gets tiring if vegetables are the only food that we eat everyday),” the Barangay Health Workers (BHWs), Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS) and midwives who are part of the project, stated in unison.
“Meat and poultry are expensive here, so our daily menu consists mostly of vegetables,” explained Sangguniang Barangay (SB) member Franklin Smith in the vernacular.
“For variety, the townsfolk go for labay (rice with sugar),” he added.
“We don’t lack food but we lack the nutrients,” added Dr. Alice Pasking, Municipal Health Officer (MHO).
The DSWD and the UN-WFP agreed to pilot test the EWS-HFI project in Atok and in the municipality of Upi, Maguindanao because of their vulnerability to impending disasters.
Atok is prone to landslides during the rainy season, while Upi experiences drought during summer. These towns also have high poverty rates, with more people and children likely to experience hunger and malnutrition.
The project aims to provide information that will contribute to the analysis of causes and associated factors concerning hunger and food insecurity to guide the LGUs in adopting necessary preventive measures.
Likewise, the information generated by the system can help disaster-prone LGUs prioritize their resources and create timely interventions even before a calamity strikes their area.
In preparation for the project’s implementation, the DSWD, UN-WFP and the National Nutrition Council (NNC) conducted a training in September 2013 for municipal level personnel who will implement the EWS-HFI project in the town.
The training is part of a series of activities under the project, which aims to capacitate the Municipal Team on the proper execution and use of the system in their municipality.
The participants include staff from the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO), Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO), Municipal Planning and Development Office (MPDO), Municipal Health Office (MHO), Local Government Unit (LGU) staff and a Sangguniang Bayan member, who is the Chair of the Sangguniang Bayan Health Committee.
The training sessions covered topics from basic concepts of data collection to the development of the implementation plan for the food security early warning system, while the manual used in the project was adopted from the training manual developed for the UN-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Training Manual prepared by Dr. Bongga and Dr. Celestino Habito.
A BHW weighs a toddler during a monitoring visit to a sample household in Barangay Paoay.
According to Dra. Bongga, the project involves two levels of data collection. First is conducted by the Municipal Level team composed of the MHO, MSWDO, MAO, MPDC, MNAO, and an SB member, which is responsible for generating data on climate, food production, and food prices. Second is a a Household Level team composed of the Rural Health Midwives (RHMs), Barangay Health Workers (BHWs) and Barangay Nutrition Scholar (BNS), which collects data on hunger incidence, diet diversity and nutritional status (weight and height) of children 0-59 months of age.
As part of the monitoring, the Municipal teams submit quarterly reports showing the indicator for climate, weather, and environmental factors such as amount of rainfall, temperature, typhoon damage to agriculture and fisheries, effects on food production; and, diet diversity of household as well as nutritional status showing the weight and length of 0 to 59 months old children.
To determine the cut-off levels for food and nutrition security for the municipality, the Municipal teams utilized color coded data with 90% or higher considered as “normal” with corresponding color code of green, 75% to 89% indicates “warning” with the color code orange; and less than 75%, is equivalent to a “critical” level with the color code red.
Dealing with the ‘new normal’
According to studies, climate change has severely affected weather patterns to the extent that natural disasters, such as typhoons, storm surge, earthquakes, and landslides are becoming stronger and more destructive.
As communities become more susceptible to the damaging effects of natural hazards, the LGUs must increase their capability and resiliency to cope with the challenges brought about by climate change.
Hence, LGUs must learn to address situations where the weather patterns have changed and these events are becoming bigger and stronger which is now considered the new normal.
This is where EWS-HFI comes in.
The goals of the project coincides with this year’s Nutrition Month theme: “Kalamidad Paghandaan, Gutom at Malnutrisyon Agapan,” which aims to promote interventions to address nutritional needs in emergencies and disasters including preparedness, response and recovery; to mobilize responders particularly the local nutrition clusters and stakeholders to address gaps in nutrition from national to barangay levels; and, to increase awareness among families and individuals on coping and resiliency strategies to prevent malnutrition and worsening of nutritional status in times of emergencies and disasters.
The EWS-HFI project started last year and will run until this year after the four quarters of surveys have been completed and the final results documented.
To ensure the project’s sustainability, the LGU committed to continue its implementation.
“We have learned a lot. Before, we are not aware about the importance of proper nutrition, that there should be variety in our meals,” stated Smith.
Smith added that the LGU has also become more conscious of the fact that they should monitor the hunger and food insecurity of their constituents, so they will be ready when disaster strikes.
Another positive effect of the project is the increased awareness of parents on the nutritional status of their children.
Maridel Boti, 24, mother of a 4-year-old boy and a 10-month-old girl, related that her family’s staple menu is sayote tops and rice, since meat and fish are expensive, while sayote sells for only P2.50/kilo.
Although her son was informed at school that he is too short for his age, Maridel said they were not advised on what to do. It was only recently that the young mother learned about proper nutrition from the barangay health workers doing the surveys.
Maridel admitted that since she and her husband are often out in the fields working, she rarely has time to cook, hence, their son often eats processed food.
With the project, Maridel, her fellow mothers, and even local officials may appreciate their town’s bounty, using these for their own advantage to ensure both their economic and physical well-being, especially in times of disasters. ###