A full-blown El Niño this year, as predicted by the weather bureau, is something that the government must prepare for to minimize the impact on the agriculture sector.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration has warned the public to brace for the severe El Niño, a prolonged period of reduced rainfall, rising temperatures, dry spells and drought.
Pag-asa has already monitored signs of the weather phenomenon in the Pacific as early as July last year and expects it to become full-blown by the end of February or in March.
The dry spell that will induce drought is widespread this time. Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu provinces have already started to experience the dry spell, while Ilocos Norte, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur are coping with drought.
Pag-asa added Abra, Bataan, Palawan, Ilocos Sur and Zambales may also experience drought by the end of March.
El Niño, which is triggered by periodic warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean, could last for five months to two years and lead to reduced rainfall in the affected areas.
The little rainfall is expected to wreak havoc on agriculture, especially rice and corn farms, and reduce the country's fruit production and exports. The water levels of rivers, dams, lakes and other channels will recede and reduce their flows to the country's irrigation system.
Hydro-electric plants, meanwhile, will generate less output because of the water shortage. This, in turn, will increase electricity rates to consumers and cause outages in some parts of the country if no base-load power plants are available.
The Department of Agriculture should be one of the lead agencies on top of the El Niño situation. Farmers will soon suffer the consequences of the dry spell as farmlands become unproductive. The National Irrigation Administration should also initiate the construction of more water-impounding structures as an effective solution to future El Niños.
The government must release emergency funds to affected farmers to ease their plight, and take measures to mitigate the inflationary impact of the drought. It should also plan rice imports ahead to prevent last year's shortage that sent prices surging to a nine-year high.