Senator Ralph G. Recto today prodded the Senate to look into the government’s El Niño preparations, an issue, he said, which is “hotter than Napoles.”
“Although it doesn’t create burning headlines, El Niño is a threat which we must confront now,” said Recto.
The requested audience with officials from the agriculture (DA) and energy departments (DOE) becomes imperative as the United Nations (UN) floated the possibility of “what could be the worst El Niño in 17 years” even as it follows through on efforts to rebuild in the aftermath of super typhoon “Yolanda.”
In its latest bulletin on the Philippines, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) raised concern that with prolonged dry spells and stronger storms expected to hit the country this year, tropical cyclones were projected to affect the north with increased intensity.
In Senate Resolution No. 645, the Senate President Pro-Tempore wants the Upper Chamber to summon the responsible DA and DOE officials who should be in the forefront of drafting and implementing the measures that will cushion the effects of the feared dry spell.
“There are three areas of concern: food, power and drinking water,” he said.
“Will there be enough irrigation water for our farms? What’s the fallback if hydroelectric dams run out of water which will power turbines? What is being done so our taps won’t go dry?” Recto asked.
Recto said it “would be better if the Senate takes a proactive stance and demand what is being done at present, who’s minding the store, than do a post-mortem of a probe months from now after the supposed El Niño plans had ended up in fiasco.”
Early this year, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAG-ASA) warned of an El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon which could begin in June 2014 and last until early 2015.
Going by its past depredations, El Niño harms food supply as it could turn farmlands and fishponds dry and drain dams that supply power, irrigation and drinking water.
Two past El Niño episodes the country experienced – in 1982-83 and in 1997-98 – racked up hefty agriculture damage.
The 1998 version left P9.2 billion in farm damages and 600,000 hectares of land dry as a bone.
The DA has identified 44 provinces and two cities as vulnerable to El Niño.
Citing data from the DA, the UN agency also said that the country’s rice and corn production during the first half of 1998 were reduced by 27 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Back then, Central Visayas bore the brunt of a prolonged drought that took a toll on some 900,000 people.
“In Mindanao, 74 people died and more than 450,000 agricultural families faced severe food insecurity because of the drought caused by El Niño,” the UN OCHA said.
Regarding post-Yolanda efforts, the agency said that only 56 percent of the $788 million that the UN requested from international donors has been funded so far.
Last May, the DA reported that crops valued at a total of P823.29 million have so far been lost to the early effects of a looming El Niño dry spell.
Based on a preliminary assessment by the DA’s field units, corn farms were most affected with P583.6 million worth of losses. These involved 28,105 hectares with foregone harvest equivalent to 45,729 metric tons of corn.
The dry spell has also taken its toll on rice farms and vegetable farms, causing damage worth P221.28 million and P18.41 million, respectively.
More than 12,000 tons of palay from 4,618 hectares of farms have been lost, as well as 1,190 tons of vegetables from 242 hectares of land.
Recto said “we want the government to come up with province-specific plans” that will cover Misamis Oriental, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Cavite.
Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Davao Oriental, Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya.
Quirino, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Romblon, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Bohol, Samar and Davao City.
The Senate would also request information on water conservation measures that will protect customers of the two Greater Metro Manila water concessionaires and the almost 900 water districts in the country.