The Philippines is known as the texting capital of the world. Around three-quarters of the entire country have cell phones and most everyone is using them for something. With about eleven percent of the workforce living overseas, an increasing number using SMS texting to transfer cash back home to their families. The Philippines is also home to an increasing number of devastating storms, rising seas, and conflicts.
Hunger is a problem for many displaced families who have lost homes, farmland, and livelihoods. In emergencies like these, the World Food Program helps by providing long-lasting staples like rice and oil. Work projects like building new homes, are helping too. The new homes are being built to help uprooted communities get back on their feet. In situations where food is available, but out of reach to many, the WFP is testing mobile phones to transfer the cash they have earned so that they can buy food.
Today, these women are learning how to enter the proper codes and collect their cash, adopting technology to help fight hunger.
Stephen Anderson (County Dir. WFP Philippines) says, “It becomes like a digital wallet. It’s almost like a bank account and our surveys shows that they are spending 70%-80% of the cash on food, so we think that’s a good thing.”
One woman, Rosemary Estas thinks this is a good thing too. Her home was completely destroyed in 2009 by Typhoon Ketsana. Today, WFP and the European Union have credited her with 240 pesos, about $5.50, which she claims from a shop that participates in the program. Of that, she spends 79 pesos on chicken and 8 pesos on milk to feed her family.
She said that with cash she could buy a greater variety of food. Before the typhoon, Rosemary and her family lived in a house by a lake. Now they live under a makeshift roof of plastic sheeting between some homes and a sewage ditch.
Rising sea levels, typhoons, and conflict is keeping the Philippines with one foot on either side of the edge between hunger and hope. WFP is trying to use available technology in creative ways to help people get their balance. It’s a sparse existence, but the food Rosemary and her family are able to buy gives them some semblance of normality and keeps their stomachs full.