Long-Term Solution to El Niño
The El Niño phenomenon, or a period of extended drought, is one climate change problem that needs a long-term solution. It is occurring more often and could have permanent and damaging effects if we do not treat it as a persistent economic threat.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last week was quick to recognize that crop production would bear the brunt of the El Niño phenomenon that might last until the first half of 2024. Reduced crop output, as we know, leads to higher inflation, which the government is starting to tame. But worse than the inflationary impact is the ensuing dire situation of our rural farmers, who mostly rely on harvests and their income from them for their daily sustenance.
Another obvious impact of the extended dry spell is the reduced supply of potable water to millions of Filipino consumers in urban centers and the rural areas. The lack of ample water supply is actually an age-long problem worldwide even without El Niño, and climate change is exacerbating the situation.
Some 11 million families, per the National Water Resource Board, face the predicament and are forced to rely on “unprotected” deep wells, springs, rivers, lakes and rainwater for their household needs. Lack of sanitation facilities, according to NWRB Executive Director Dr. Sevillo David Jr., has also forced some families to defecate in the open, risking water contamination and diseases.
The United Nations, meanwhile, is not remiss in warning about the global water shortage. The United Nations, in the latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report, says between two and three billion people worldwide experience water shortages. About 2 billion people (26 percent of the population) do not have safe drinking water, and 3.6 billion (46 percent) lack access to safely managed sanitation, according to the report.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the world to safeguard water resources to avert conflict and ensure future global prosperity. Water, he says, is “the most precious common good” and “needs to be at the center of the global political agenda.”
The El Niño is a reminder to our policymakers to treat the water resource problem more seriously. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has already warned some 36 provinces may experience a dry spell while at least two provinces may suffer from drought.
The weather phenomenon has reared its ugly head this early. The water levels in all major dams in Luzon have been going down, with Angat Dam’s reserve nearing the 180-meter critical level as of last week. A reserve below this elevation means reduced water supply to Metro Manila and other users that depend on Angat, including irrigation and the power sector.
The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System has warned an estimated 632,000 Metro Manila households may be affected by water service interruptions arising from low allocation and lack of rain over the watersheds.
The lower water level due to El Niño and reduced rainfall are expected to decrease the volume of other water resources such as lakes and rivers that feed into rural irrigation canals. Our farmers, no doubt, will suffer the most from the dry spell.
Perhaps, we should take the warning of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization more seriously. The onset of El Niño, according to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records this year and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean.
“The declaration of an El Niño by WMO is the signal to governments around the world to mobilize preparations to limit the impacts on our health, our ecosystems, and our economies,” says Taalas.
Our local government units should be drawing up mitigating measures now to lessen the impact of the dry spell on consumers and our farmers. But beyond these stopgap actions, our policymakers should start considering long-term pre-emptive measures against El Niño and other natural disasters.
It may be wise to consider the construction of alternative and mini dams, and other water impoundments to protect Filipinos from destructive weather phenomena. We can also introduce modern technology to our farmers, and drought-tolerant crops as part of the solution.