IBON FEATURE

Bracing for El Niño: Is the Aquino administration prepared?

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EL Niño is not expected to occur until late June or July, with its impact likely to be felt by the third quarter of the year. But this early Filipino farmers are already bearing the brunt of the dry spell. Households are facing rotating brownouts and water service interruptions as major dams begin to dry up.

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Some experts, including the United Nations which issued a recent bulletin, warn that it could be a strong El Niño. Prolonged dry spells and stronger storms are expected to hit the country and are seen to worsen when El Niño peaks months from now. Notably, recent destructive tropical storms such as Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 occurred during an El Niño year.

Is the Aquino administration prepared to mitigate the effects of the continued drought and devastating typhoons? Does it have the needed policy tools to intervene and protect the most vulnerable sectors?

How strong?
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a recent report that it is monitoring something in the Pacific that looks like 1997 before a big El Niño occurred. The 1997 El Niño was considered the strongest in 50 years of accurate data gathering.

In the Philippines, it reduced rainfall by half and agricultural production by almost eight percent. It affected 74,000 hectares of agricultural lands in 18 provinces. The area planted for major crops declined by more than 14% during the 1997 El Niño. Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) data show that the volume of palay production fell by 24% and corn, 12%, in 1997-98.

The impact of the worst recorded El Niño was most felt in Mindanao. More than 74 people died and almost half a million agricultural families starved because of the drought. Shortage of potable water was also reported.

Local crop production, already hurt by structural backwardness, takes steep declines when El Niño hits. On the average, the volume of palay and corn production during El Niño years in the past two decades has fallen by more than three percent. Annual production of palay and corn has been very erratic.

Areas affected
While El Niño is expected to start by midyear 2014, its early effects are already weighing down farm production. The Department of Agriculture (DA) said that P823.29 million worth of crops have so far been lost due to the dry spell.

Most affected are corn farms, which already took a loss of P583.6 million, equivalent to 45,729 metric tons. Losses have been reported as well for palay (P221.28 million) and vegetable (P18.41 million) farms. Almost 33,000 hectares of corn, palay and vegetable farms have already been affected. Cagayan Valley accounts for more than half of the total value of crop losses, based on the DA’s preliminary report.

Earlier, state-run weather forecaster Pag-asa said that El Niño would likely hit Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Leyte and some parts of Mindanao. But other provinces can be affected as well. In Bulacan and Pampanga, for instance, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) temporarily stopped water supply to some 27,000 hectares (has.) of farms due to the critical level of Angat Dam.

Angat Dam
If Angat Dam continues to deplete, Maynilad Water Services Inc. claimed that there could be tight water supply in Metro Manila starting August. The private water concessionaire warned that 60,000 households in its service area would suffer from low water pressure.

Angat Dam supplies the irrigation needs of Bulacan and Pampanga and 97% of Metro Manila’s water needs. The dam also has a hydroelectric power component, thus threatening as well the supply of electricity. Unfortunately, government no longer controls Angat Dam after being privatized and taken over by the Korea Water Resources Development Corp. and the San Miguel group.

To be continued

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