Feature: Bracing up for El Niño

QUEZON CITY, Nov. 6 -- While the recent Typhoon Lando brought rains to the country’s dams, the threat of El Niño on the country’s water resources persists.

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astrological Services Authority (PAGASA) Senior Weather Specialist Analiza Solis said that because of El Niño,  66 percent of the country will likely experience dry spell or drought by the end of December  2015 while 79 percent of the country will likely experience drought by end of April 2016.

Drought is defined as three-consecutive months of way below normal rainfall condition, dry spell is three-consecutive months of below normal rainfall condition, and dry condition is two-consecutive months of below normal rainfall condition.

El Niño can lead to losses in agricultural production, fish kills and red tide, outbreak of diseases such as malaria and dengue, and land or soil degradation due to long-term loss of vegetation.

In the first half of 2015 alone, agricultural losses due to lack of rainfall were estimated at P3.3-billion. Among these were rice and corn crops as these can be easily damaged during severe drought, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Other effects of El Niño include reduced water supply in dams, irrigation facilities and hydroelectric power plants.

“Isa sa mga naaapektuhan ng pagkakaroon ng El Niño ay ‘yong sa mga water resources natin,” Dr. Sevillo D. David Jr., Executive Director of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) said. “Noong sinabi ng PAGASA noong isang taon pa na may obserbasyon sa posibilidad na magkaroon ng El Niño, ginawan na po natin ng karampatang pagbabantay ang pagdedebelop ng El Niño.”

Since 2014, NWRB has been monitoring water coming in Angat Dam that secures nearly 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water supply. NWRB reduced water allocation to domestic and municipal areas from the regular 42-43 cubic meters per second, to 38 in July and 36 in August, as a strategy to conserve water and prevent its decline.

El Niño is characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific (CEEP), thus disturbing the normal rainfall pattern. It also may result in delayed onset of rainy season, extended dry season, weak monsoon activity, less tropical cyclones, below normal rainfall, and above normal air temperature.

Although the recent Typhoon Lando contributed 8 meters in the water level of Angat Dam, Dr. David said the threatening effects of El Niño remain. As of October 30, water level in Angat Dam is 205 meters, lower than the 212 meter-target before the year ends.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has proposed a P2 billion supplemental budget for its El Niño Action Plan for the agriculture sector. The amount will be used for DA’s Production Support, Water Management, Project Management, and Information and Educational Campaigns.

“Priority namin yung mga lugar na identified ng PAGASA na mga area na forecast na matindi ang epekto ng El Niño,” said Engr. Henry Cacayan, officer-in-charge ng Water Resources and Management Division of DA-Bureau of Soils and Water Management.

Furthermore, Cacayan said government is advising farmers of alternative ways to produce crops even during El Niño.

“Ine-encourage din ng Department of Agriculture ang crop shifting. Sa halip na magtanim sila ng palay na matakaw sa tubig, magtanim na lang sila ng ibang crops gaya ng legumes,” he added.

Solis, David and Cacayan were guests during the weekly Kapihan sa Media ng Bayan which airs live Fridays from 10-11 am over 738 khz AM DZRB Radyo ng Bayan, and telecast on the same day over PTV4 and IBC 13 from 7 pm-8 pm and 10.30 pm-11.30 pm, respectively. (Patricia Ruth Cailao-PIA/Ryan Calubad, Christian John Calimbas-Media ng Bayan Operations Center) #elniño