Senator Loren Legarda
Privilege Speech on El Niño
19 August 2015 | Senate Session Hall
PAGASA issued its latest El Niño Advisory on August 5 stating that the moderate El Niño the country is currently experiencing will intensify in the last quarter of the year. Based on leading climate models, PAGASA also announced that it will linger up to the first months of 2016. This El Niño is predicted to be identical with what we experienced in 1997-1998 or even worse. According to international research institutions, this could be one of the strongest El Niño in 65 years.
How is this weather system formed? El Niño is a cyclic warming of surface ocean waters in the East Pacific. During El Niño, the usually strong easterly wind becomes weak. It becomes incapable of pushing warm water in the West Pacific region. Rains are diverted eastwards causing enhanced rainfall in the Eastern Pacific and less rains in the western area. This phenomenon is identified when the temperature reaches 0.5°C or higher for at least five consecutive months overlapping three-month seasons. It is part of a climate system occurring every four to five years.
This climate pattern is expected to cause dry spell and drought in our country. Based on the latest forecast this August, the provinces of Aurora, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Laguna, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro were affected by dry spell. On the other hand, drought-affected provinces are Bohol, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Quezon and Siquijor.
Less rainfall means less water supply. Among the most affected sectors in times like this is the water supply for irrigation. According to the Department of Agriculture (DA), this phenomenon caused more than P2 billion worth of damage to agricultural products as of May 2015.
In Metro Manila, water supply from Angat dam was reduced to 41 cubic meters per second (cms) for municipal use since July 1. The reservoir’s level this month stagnated in 180-meter level which is still below the normal high water level (NHWL).
Although PAGASA expects the peak of southwest monsoon in August and September and that two to four tropical cyclones will enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) in these months, gradual cessation of rainfall will start in the first week of October. The water from the coming rains in August and September may not be enough to refill our reservoirs for it to maintain sufficient water supply until early next year.
Given this scenario, I am urging the public to conserve water. Several agencies have been working hand-in-hand to minimize the effects of this strong phenomenon. PAGASA is maintaining a very close watch of weather developments in order to provide necessary information to the public. The government thru the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), DA, together with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and National Power Corporation (NPC), closely monitors the operations of water reserves and regulates water withdrawal to optimize its utilization.
In the advent of Metro Manila’s water supply reduction, the government and the private sector must prepare with their demand management and supply augmentation programs to reduce the impacts of El Niño in the metro’s water consumers. Among these are securing water requirements of vital institutions, immediate undertaking of cloud seeding when necessary, water pressure reduction, rotational water supply schedules, re-activation of deepwell sources and deployment of portable water treatment facilities.
In agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has implemented strategies to mitigate the impacts of this phenomenon. Farmers were engaged in alternative measures including modified cropping calendar and pattern; planting of short gestating rice varieties; maximizing the utilization of effective rainfall; provision of water pumps; strict implementation of proper water management and water savings technology (Alternate Wet and Dry Method); reduction of water loss through canal lining and irrigation canals maintenance; and water recycling.
Both the government and private sector involved in the water sector are conducting information drive on water conservation and appealing to the public to work together in conserving our water resources.
We cannot stop this El Niño. The most that we can do is prepare for its adverse effects in the water and food sectors through water conservation. Let us practice measures to efficiently use our water resource like gathering and storing rainwater for daily chores, using water dipper instead of shower when bathing, turning off faucets properly, and immediately repairing leaking pipes and running toilets, among others. We can surpass this dry season if we consolidate all efforts and do our share.
And more importantly, with the changing environment due to climate change we have to be always prepared for future onsets of El Niño by implementing permanent mitigation measures such as establishment of rain harvesting and small water impounding facilities. This will contribute in securing the water requirements of our communities particularly the farmers which are vital in our food security programs.
Finally, I wish to stress once more the need for climate action. Changes in temperature, rainfall and sea level would be disastrous to the agricultural sector. Crop yield potential is estimated to decline by 19% in Asia toward the end of the century and rice yield in the Philippines would decline by 75%.
The country’s agricultural adaptation program must ensure more investments in agricultural research and infrastructure, improved water governance and land use policies, better forecasting tools and early warning systems, a strengthened extension system that will assist farmers to achieve economic diversification and access to credit to make significant improvements in our food security goals.
Climate change is a gut issue and we need to act now if we want to ensure food security today and in the future.
Presentations from PAGASA and NIA