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On the alert with El Niño

Manila Standard

All that may illustrate the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon is the sustained heat index across the country in April – ranging from 35 degrees Celsius in Manila’s outskirts to 42 degrees C in Ilocos Norte.

El Niño has been underway since July last year, with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration reminding the public that a strong El Niño would likely persist until February 2024, and that global climate models predict it would continue until May this year.

El Niño has historically impacted livelihood and health by causing extreme droughts and severe flooding in parts of the world.

In an agricultural country like the Philippines (population 114 million), where dry spells and droughts are expected, this could mean crop failures affecting food production.

If it is any consolation, as early as last December President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in Nueva Ecija, a rice granary north of Manila, that securing water for farmers was the administration’s top priority during the 2023-2024 El Niño.

“We’re making sure that our farmers have water, first and foremost, so we will have food supply that’s good and will continue to increase our production of agricultural products,” the President said.

In the first quarter of 2024, PAGASA’s outlook suggested potential drought in the Ilocos Region, parts of the highly elevated Cordillera Autonomous Region and Central Luzon, and other places in Luzon. Metro Manila, Rizal, and Aurora, among others, would have dry spells.

Weather experts have said this trend will culminate in April.

By then, 56 areas from Luzon and parts of the Visayas and Mindanao might face potential drought while Mindanao is expecting mostly dry spells.

Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum earlier said, “Based on recent conditions, moderate to severe drought conditions are likely from February to May 2024.

“And by the end of May, 77 percent of the provinces of the country will have potential for drought – that would be around 65 provinces.”

It is encouraging that the national government has “accelerated efforts” to prepare for El Niño.

“We have a good buffer until the end of the first quarter (of 2024),” President Marcos said.

“What we need to do is to prepare further capacity so that should El Niño extend to the second quarter of (2024), we are still able to supply water to urban areas, agriculture and industries.”

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