El Niño-affected families urge govt to step up drought response

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Drought-stricken farmers and fisherfolk from the Visayas and Mindanao raised their concerns to officials from the national government agencies during the El Niño Response forum on Thursday, urging for immediate action to address the needs of El Niño-affected families.

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Marceda Sibya, 36-year-old mother of two who is also a farmer from Pigcawayan, North Cotabato told the attendees they have been struggling to feed their families as drought left them with nothing to toil.

Sibya and her family were among the many who are hardest hit by the weather phenomenon. Latest figures from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) indicate that nearly 200,000 farmers from across the country are affected by drought, as damage to crops – mostly rice, corn and high value crops – reached P6.5 billion.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), on the other hand, has placed the number of those affected at 457,497 or almost half a million families.

The farmer and fishermen leaders from Mindanao and the Visayas attended the international workshop at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City.

Jermaine Bayas, Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Coordinator of Oxfam said their assessments in selected municipalities in North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao showed that farmers and their families are experiencing hunger, without enough food stocks, nor enough cash to buy food.

“People will be needing immediate food and emergency livelihood assistance, as we anticipate this situation to last for the next 3-8 months. It will take some time for them to recover lost incomes and livelihoods,” Bayas said.

World Food Program (WFP) assessments in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao validate observations that food insecurity has turned from bad to worse, as more than a third of total households eat fewer than three meals a day. almost 50 percent of families are now adapting emergency coping strategies, as they begin to sell farm animals and other assets.

The region is also home to a large number of households suffering from mild, moderate and severe chronic food insecurity. Extensive damage to rice and corn production in Region XII is feared to further aggravate this situation.

Bayas added that the situation is even more volatile in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao like Maguindanao.

“The tragedy of the situation that confronts us today with El Niño is that we have had enough evidence ahead of time to make plans. In fact, we do have plans, and we do have funds for these, and yet we have failed some of our communities, who have yet to see these plans implemented,” said Erwin Alampay, director of University of the Philippines Center for Local and Regional Governance (UP-CLRG).

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