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El Niño to roil agri areas

Govt gears for long dry spell, bares weak spots

MINDANAO, the Visayas and parts of Luzon will be the most vulnerable to drought if a mild El Niño develops in June, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said on Tuesday.

Climatologist Anthony Joseph Lucero said the specific areas projected to be affected are Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao, Panay Island, Bohol and Negros in the Visayas, and the provinces in Northern Luzon based on historical data.

“We still have to see if the phenomenon will develop before we are able to identify more areas toward the end of 2014,” Lucero told the Manila Standard.

He made his statement even as the National Water Resources Board said it may stop allocating water for irrigation in Bulacan and Candaba in Pampanga as a result of Angat Dam’s dwindling supply of water.

The move would ensure enough potable water for  Metro Manila, said Jorge Estioko, the board’s officer in charge.

Hydrologist Edgar de la Cruz said Angat Dam’s water level continued to dip by an average of 0.3 meters a day, adding the dam’s water level would go down to its critical level by May 11.

The dry spell is affecting may parts of the country, and on Tuesday six-hour rolling blackouts hit Cagayan de Oro City as the water level in the dams supplying water to the hydroelectric plant  remained low. 

On May 6, Australia issued an El Niño alert on expectations the weather-altering pattern will probably develop as early as July, potentially bringing drought across the Asia-Pacific region and heavier-than-usual rain to South America.

The tropical Pacific Ocean had warmed recently in recent months, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website, citing large anomalies below the surface and increasingly warm surface temperatures. Models suggested that the likelihood of an event was at least 70 percent, the government forecaster said.

El Niños can roil agricultural markets worldwide as farmers contend with drought or too much rain.

Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo had previously warned of drier conditions, reduced amount of rainfall and stronger typhoons because of El Niño.

He said the onset of El Niño in June could  peak during the last quarter of 2014 and might last up to the first quarter of 2015.

National Irrigation Administration chief Claro Maranan said a meeting of an inter-agency committee was held on Tuesday to inform all government agencies involved about the possible development of an El Niño in June.

But he assured farmers that his agency was ready to ease El Niño’s impact.

“We have interventions such as the adjustment of the cropping calendar, adoption of water-saving techniques, the reuse of water, rotation of water delivery and the impounding of rainwater,” Maranan told the Manila Standard.

He said 10 percent to 15 percent of the 1.3- million hectares of the irrigated land nationwide were projected to be affected by the expected drought.

The last time the Philippines was hit by El Niño was in June 2009 and it lasted until February 2010.

During that time, a dry spell devastated vast agricultural areas, leaving staple crops, such as rice, dying in parched earth, according to the United Nations humanitarian news service IRIN.

At that time, the cost of crop damage topped US$239 million since the phenomenon started a heat wave across much of northern Luzon Island and parts of the central Visayas region in late December 2010.

Some 14 provinces were affected, with the brunt of the crisis borne by the agricultural provinces of Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan and Isabela, where irrigation dried up.

Pig and poultry farmers are also hit by increased cost of corn and animal feeds, since corn is a major raw material.

According to official statistics, 54 percent of the total 487,389 hectares planted with rice, corn, tobacco and other high value commercial crops were affected in the northern region.

Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Cagayan provinces are officially under a “state of calamity”, so they can now tap extra government funding.

The government tried to mitigate the impact of El Niño by embarking on intensified importation of agricultural commodities, particularly rice. The agriculture department said it imported some three million metric tons of rice in 2010.

The government also tried to bring in additional irrigation pumps and seeding clouds, but the efforts failed to induce rain while there were also drought-triggered outbreaks of pests and diseases.

The World Food Programme described the situation as “a slow onset emergency”.

“We are particularly concerned for people still trying to recover from floods and storms that hit the country in September and October, that now, when they are trying to grow crops, they are again confronted with another natural disaster,” WFP country director Stephen Anderson said. With Bloomberg and Lance Baconguis

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