Helping the Poor and Hungry to Survive the Pandemic

The Philippines is working to “flatten the curve” of those affected by COVID-19, with the help of a food program that will help feed thousands. Photo: ADB
The Philippines is working to “flatten the curve” of those affected by COVID-19, with the help of a food program that will help feed thousands. Photo: ADB

By Ramesh Subramaniam

A new program will help provide food to thousands of poor households in the Philippines.

During financial crises, we talk about “belt tightening”. In these days of pandemic stress, the catchphrase is “flattening the curve”. Regardless, it’s always the poor who suffer disproportionately from these necessary correctives. Thankfully, countries affected by COVID-19 including the Philippines are taking steps to support the poor and hungry, while trying to flatten the infection curve in the near term.

Financial crises are typically caused by an underlying vice such as greed, poor governance, or corruption. Economists call these “endogenous” factors. In contrast, COVID-19 was triggered by factors outside the spectrum of such human failings. It is an “exogenous” shock, one striking from a place unfamiliar to nearly everyone. And it has hit everyone hard, like a natural disaster.

Yet, some people are hit more heavily than others. Countries that have imposed enhanced quarantine measures to flatten the curve now must find ways to help millions of people who need assistance. So, it is time for the more fortunate among us to share what we have with those who have next-to nothing. Governments will do their job, but it is incumbent on everyone to help. In many countries, like the Philippines, the private sector is doing an amazing job of providing emergency support to the poor.

The founding objective of development institutions like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is to create a cooperative spirit of helping countries. With COVID-19 having such a severe impact on our members, our teams have been working non-stop since mid-January to ease the burden.

We have put in place many grants and loans to rapidly strengthen health facilities across the Asia and Pacific region and here in the Philippines. As we work on further support, we felt that unusual times like these call for unusual solutions. On 24 March, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” to provide emergency cash subsidies of PhP 5,000-8,000 a month to some 18 million low-income households.

We at ADB felt strongly that we should do our part to immediately help the poor, while working with the government on our larger support for the fiscal stimulus programs and cash transfer initiatives. So, the idea of putting up a grant to give food to thousands of poor households was born.

It is not typical for ADB to provide such grants for food aid. The “unusual solutions” logic kicked in, and on 26 March our management approved a $5 million emergency food grant. The grant is based on the wonderful Filipino Bayanihan principle, or the spirit of sharing what one has with one’s community.  We want to leverage up the grant as much as possible with large private sector and philanthropic partners through cash or in-kind contributions.

The program will deliver critical food items for a family of 4-5 people to ensure their nutritional well-being, following the guidelines of the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development. It will deliver food directly to households, as part of the broader COVID-19 containment strategy. The program will target thousands of poor households in relatively hard-to-reach areas or located far from retail facilities or food markets.

  Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of poor households are being fed in the Philippines.

Besides perhaps thousands of examples across the Philippines, closer to home for ADB, the Bayanihan spirit also draws strength from the example set by ADB staff who have supported people in times of need in various countries. After Typhoon Yolanda, staff distributed food to scores of affected people. Following the November 2019 Mindanao earthquakes, a team traveled to the worst-affected areas to help over 4,000 families. ADB staff, their families and our former employees are mobilizing their own contributions for this Bayanihan initiative as well.

Our team is confident that even if the program may not reach all poor households, Filipinos will always share what they have with those who have less. Such sharing, whether on a small scale or a larger scale, will surely help the Philippines and other countries to bounce back from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

With the resources we currently expect to mobilize, we can serve at least 75,000 poor households (about 350,000 individuals) for approximately two weeks. The idea is that it will serve as a bridge to larger programs to be introduced soon.

We can do more, through the generosity of others. ADB welcomes assistance from institutions and entities that meet our criteria on financial integrity, enabling us as a public institution to receive contributions.

If you’ve ever wanted to do more to help the poor, the time to reach out is now. This is an unprecedented crisis and everyone needs to help.

For further information, visit Bayan Bayanihan website.