Preparing for El Niño This Early is Prudent
We should never underestimate the impact of the looming El Niño phenomenon—or drought—on agriculture. This weather disturbance can create havoc on the livelihood of our farmers and disrupt water supplies in many municipalities.
The lesser volume of water will eventually lead to lower agriculture production and higher crop prices, and reduce the output of hydroelectric dams. Prolonged droughts, as we have learned in history, had caused mass migrations and the demise of some civilizations.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as the nation’s agriculture secretary, is well aware of the incoming dry spell. This early, he has prepared a number of measures to mitigate the impact of El Niño on crops and farmers. This is not a case of overreaction. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration is coming up with an El Niño Alert starting this month as the chances of the drought lasting from June until the first quarter of 2024 have increased.
This weather phenomenon has already prompted President Marcos to order select government agencies to draw up a campaign to generate public awareness and conserve water and energy to mitigate the effects of the El Niño phenomenon.
I can imagine the hardship that our farmers will bear when the dry spell starts to kick in. They may be forced to shift to planting crops that are less susceptible to El Niño, such as vegetable or root crops, instead of the traditional rice.
Mr. Marcos is taking the challenge head-on starting from the most basic use of water. The nation’s chief executive wants to assure the people that there is enough supply of clean and safe water for Filipinos during the dry spell.
He is also taking a whole-of-government approach in dealing with the water crisis. He just signed an executive order creating a Water Management Office that will help deal with the national problem.
Mr. Marcos spoke of converting our dependence on supply from underground water to surface water and upgrading the distribution system. For one, some of the nation’s water pipes were installed during World War II.
Upgrading and modernizing the water distribution system in the provinces is not an easy task. But Mr. Marcos authorized local government units to install their own water supply systems. Our LGUs will need help from the private sector, which I’m sure, is more than willing to act as partners in water distribution.
The Bureau of Plant Industry, meanwhile, is drawing up measures to reduce the impact of El Niño on food production. The agency must pursue intervention programs to help farmers during the El Niño phase.
The bureau shares the responsibility of managing irrigation to mitigate the effects on crops. Farmers should be told to defer their plans to plant water-sensitive crops.
New crops, per the bureau report, have been developed that are climate-smart, such as new breeds of vegetables that can endure heat with little or less water. Such crops will help sustain farmers’ production and income amid the El Niño stage.
Modern science will allow our farmers to overcome the water crisis. I’ve heard of reports that several government and private institutions are collaborating to develop new climate-smart crop varieties using advanced technology.
Building relevant water infrastructure is also our way out from the drought and water crisis.
Water from the 56-year-old Angat Dam that supplies potable water to Metro Manila residents is no longer sufficient to meet the demand from an increasing population.
Perhaps, water agencies and the national government should also build more impounding or mini dams to boost our flood control and water management capabilities, and provide immediate solutions to the problems created by disruptive weather phenomena, such as El Niño and La Niña.
We should manage our water resources well and maximize them before they make their way to the open sea. Water, to me, is a finite resource that should be conserved and harnessed. The Philippines is blessed with natural resources such as water, and we should exploit these God-given wealth.