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Loren says long-term comprehensive plan for El Niño mitigation essential

February 19, 2010

LOREN LEGARDA, CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FOOD, TODAY CALLED FOR THE CRAFTING AND ADOPTION OF A LONG-TERMCOMPREHENSIVE PLAN FOR EL NIÑO MITIGATION SAYING THAT IT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE COUNTRY’S SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC WELL-BEING.
“This long-term plan should include measures that are integrated in regular government programs directed to various sectors of the society,” Loren stressed.
Loren, who also chairs the Senate oversight committee on climate change, explained that El Niño, a quasi-periodic climatic event that occurs every 3-7 years, brings in drought or dry spells and other weather disturbances especially to countries along the Pacific Ocean like the Philippines.
“El Niño is predictable as it is preceded by the warming of the surface waters in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean and increased surface pressures in the western Pacific. These water aspects are regularly monitored by the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. This agency issues early warning of a possible El Nino event of which our PAGASA has access to,” she said.
Loren noted the worst El Niño in memory occurred in the country in 1997-1998 with a lingering drought that lasted for a year. This was followed by a weak El Niño in 2001- 2003.
“As early as June, 2009, a warning for a possible weak to moderate El Niño occurring within the year has been issued by PAGASA,” Loren said.
According to Loren, the time to act should have been as early as the first El Niño warning was issued. She said we could have avoided or reduced the ill effects of El Niño.
“We could have identified and classified the vulnerable areas. We could have adapted strategies depending upon the degree of these vulnerabilities. In certain areas, we could have asked the population to help conserve water. We could have repaired our irrigation systems to prevent the unnecessary loss of water. We could have advised our farmers on what they should do to prevent crop losses,” Loren said.
“But because of our failure to do so, we are faced today with brown outs, dead crops, low yields and non-productive agricultural lands until the end of May, 2010,” she lamented.
Loren reported that in Mindanao, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) announced that it was forced to cut power supply to the entire Mindanao area after water level in its main dams in Agus and Lanao del Sur and in Pulangi in Bukidnon has dipped to its critical level.
“Agriculture and power are not the only victims of El Niño. In areas where water supply is very low, possible public health hazards may arise if clean water is not supplied,” the lady senator said.
“I wonder whether there is any government effort to address this eventuality. Local government offices are not guided by a national comprehensive plan,” she asserted.
Loren stressed that our government is aware of the ill effects of El Niño and of the possible actions that could be done to mitigate the consequences. There abound expert reports and studies on what has happened and what can be done. The experience of the Philippines and several countries in the 1997-1998 El Niño is well documented and could serve as a starting point. This document identified policies that impede the government from properly and timely responding to El Niño as well as measures that succeeded in reducing the ill effects of El Niño.