Why not donation instead of loan?

By Alex P. Vidal

“The world is governed by institutions that are not democratic – the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO.”— Jose Saramago

ON March 30, 2023, the headline story of a Philippine broadsheet screamed: “PH borrows P10 billion for malnutrition reduction program.”

The story says “the Philippines aims to lower malnutrition incidence in communities with a high burden of stunting through a P10-billion World Bank-funded multisectoral project to be spearheaded by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.”

The four-year Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project that will cover 235 towns with high rates of stunted children and pregnant women to address malnutrition in the country has been launched in a program attended by President Bongbong Marcos Jr. in Manila Hotel.

In another press release by the World Bank, it calls the program a “project” but when it approved the $178.1 million fund to “support” the Philippines’ efforts to combat malnutrition on July 22, 2022, it was in a form of “loan.”

The project promises to deliver a package of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions across the various local government (LGU) platforms together with a social behavior change and communications interventions.

Meanwhile, with this new loan the country’s external debt, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, has risen by 4.5 percent to hit a record high of $111.27 billion last year from $106.43 billion in 2021, as both the national government and the private sector borrowed more from offshore creditors.


Regarding the malnutrition project, WB said households with pregnant women and children under two years will benefit from high-impact nutrition interventions including infant and young feeding, regular growth monitoring, multiple micronutrient supplements for children 6–23 months, iron-folic acid supplementation for pregnant women, vitamin A supplementation for children, dietary supplementation for nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women, and treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition.

The project will also support behavioral change campaigns for targeted households and communities to adopt behaviors crucial to improving nutrition outcomes for women and children, including hand washing with soap at critical times; improved sanitation and access to safe drinking water; early child-care and development; nutrition-focused child-care development activities; and promoting access to Pantawid Pamilya or 4Ps, one of the country’s social protection programs.

WB confirmed that the Philippines Multisectoral Nutrition Project will support the delivery of nutrition and health care services at the primary care and community levels to help reduce stunting – characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and young children – in 235 municipalities known to have high incidence of poverty and malnutrition.

“The persistence of high levels of childhood undernutrition in the Philippines, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, could lead to a significant increase in inequality of opportunities in the country,” said Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand.

“Where healthy children can do well in school and look forward to a prosperous future, stunted children tend to be sickly, learn less, more likely to drop out of school and their economic productivity as adults can be clipped by more than 10 percent in their lifetime. Hence, improving the nutritional status of children is key to the country’s goals of boosting human capital while strengthening the country’s economic recovery and prospects for long-term growth.”

Anchored in the Department of Health’s Universal Health Coverage initiative, the project will provide performance-based grants to local government units, linked to delivery of pre-defined nutrition, maternal and child services, and improvements in local level planning and budgeting for nutrition projects to encourage implementation of these nutrition interventions through the country’s primary health care system.


Informed by a wealth of evidence and experiences across the world, the East Asia region as well as in the Philippines, these interventions focus on the first 1,000 days of life-from conception through pregnancy and birth, the newborn period, infancy, and transition to primary school – a critical period of children’s development, according to Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist, East Asia and Pacific Region.

“Undernutrition and exposure to risks and adversities during the first 1,000 days of the child’s life can disrupt cognitive, emotional, and physical development and hold children back from reaching their full potential, thus affecting the formation of the country’s human capital,” Mbuya said.

“Therefore, interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age.”

Such adversities and risks include poverty; malnutrition; lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities; lack of nurturing care and stimulation; high levels of family stress; exposure to conflict, violence, child abuse, or neglect; and lack of access to quality health, nutrition, and education services.

WB explained that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to exacerbate the food and nutrition security of vulnerable Filipino households. Globally, food prices, already on the rise since the second half of 2020, have reached an all-time high in February 2022, leading to food security problems around the world.

“These events indicate that unless immediate action is taken, millions of Filipino children will face the increased risk of undernutrition and likely suffer the consequences of poor school performance and low adult productivity,” WB explained.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)