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Contending with El Niño

The government has alerted the public to prepare for the effects of a much prolonged and stronger dry spell brought about an intensified El Niño. Climate Monitoring and Prediction Chief Anthony Lucero of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has declared that it’s bound to get warmer and drier in the coming months due to the ongoing El Niño which, he added, may turn out to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest in the history of the country.

Pagasa said more than half of the country will suffer from the dry spell as it predicts a substantial amount of reduced rainfall reaching about 60 to 80 percent as the El Niño progresses. This is expected to significantly affect not only the regular water supply of our communities, but also the power supply in areas dependent on hydro-electric power plants, as well as irrigation for farms and water for consumers.

Science Secretary Mario Montejo has also stated earlier that the dry spell and the ensuing drought conditions will hit many provinces in the country, even as he assured the public that food security and health measures are in place to fight the El Niño phenomenon. Thirty-two provinces are projected to be affected by the dry spell from August to November 2015, while drought-affected provinces towards the end of the year have been identified as Albay, Batangas, Cavite, Masbate, and Sorsogon in Luzon; Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Southern Leyte in the Visayas as well as Basilan, Maguindanao, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sulu in Mindanao. Pagasa data showed that Quezon, Rizal, and Romblon provinces, the Visayas’ Capiz, Guimaras, and Negros Occidental provinces, and Mindanao’s Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur provinces are already under the dry spell.

Reports say that there is a 90-percent chance that the El Niño will persist throughout the first quarter of 2016 and a 70-percent chance that it may even last until beginning the second semester of the coming year. The country’s weather bureau has also predicted that by February 2016, 65 of the Philippines’ 81 provinces are expected to experience drought.

The strongest bout with El Niño that the country has experienced to date is the one that occurred in 1997-1998, where the country suffered water and food shortages as  70 percent of the country experienced severe drought. Resulting damage to the agricultural sector reached P8.46 billion as nearly 74,000 hectares of agricultural land in 18 provinces were affected by the dry spell. Data cited by the Department of Agriculture showed that during the interim, the country’s rice and corn production during the first half of 1998 went down 27 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Definitely, a multi-agency response is needed to prepare strategies to mitigate the adverse impact of El Niño.

The early warning is therefore very much appreciated because it affords concerned agencies the chance to prepare. We call special attention to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. They should stop giving permits under the IFMA and for charcoal makers. Already, the aerial view of the Sierra Madre clearly shows that large areas of the range have been denuded because of charcoal makers. This was particularly pronounced along the sides spanning Laguna, Bulacan and Rizal. This is alarming since the Sierra Madre range is considered a watershed which provides and protects sources of water for much of the National Capital Region and surrounding provinces. We should also improve the capability of Local Government Units to implement and improve Small Water Impounding Programs. This will ensure that whatever scarce rainfall is saved and put to good use like irrigation and for households.

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