More Filipinos pushed into poverty by typhoon Haiyan, high rice prices

MANILA (AFP) - Super typhoon Haiyan and surging rice prices pushed the number of Filipinos living in poverty to 25.8 percent in the first half of last year despite strong economic growth, official data released Friday showed.

The 1.2 percent rise was compared to the 24.6 percent of people in the Philippines who were considered poor a year earlier, the Philippine Statistics Authority said in a statement.

The increase followed Haiyan which struck in November 2013, killing more than 7,350 people and ravaging an area as big as Portugal in the nation of around 100 million people.

The government agency deemed a family of five who lived off 8,778 pesos (S$272.80) a month - roughly S$1.82 per person a day - to be poor.

Nevertheless the Philippines, one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, saw the average income of Filipinos rise by 6.4 percent in the first six months of 2014, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in the statement.

"The very high prices of food wiped out the gains in per capita income," he added.

The areas ravaged by Haiyan saw the most substantial jumps in poverty levels, he said.

Notwithstanding the ravages of Haiyan, the Philippine economy expanded by 6.1 percent last year, second only to China among Asian economies according to the government.

The biggest rises in per capita income, percentage-wise, occurred amongst the poorest sections of the Philippines during this period, Balisacan said.

However, the domestic price of rice, the staple cereal that accounts for 20 percent of the budget of low-income families, also shot up by 11.9 percent, he said.

Lean harvests and less imports were to blame, pushing up the inflation rate and eroding per capita income gains, he added.

The government is forecasting growth of between 7-8 percent this year, raising hopes it would make further inroads on reducing poverty.

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