Drought now ‘an emergency situation,’ peasant group leader says

Drought now ‘an emergency situation,’ peasant group leader says

To survive the monthslong dry spell, indigenous peoples in Barangay Pilar, South Upi, Maguindanao del Sur, have resorted to eating wild yam. As a result, 15 families were poisoned. 

In the forests of Barangay Nalkan, Datu Blah T. Sinsuat, Maguindanao del Norte, water sources are drying up, forcing children to trek hilly, landslide-prone areas to draw water from springs. 

In the coastal and highland Barangay Tambak, also in Datu Blah T. Sinsuat, the drought has made it difficult for the mostly Teduray community to sustain farming as their livelihood. Approximately 40 hectares of their land planted with coconut, corn, ube and peanut, among others, have been ravaged by the dry spell. 

In the municipalities of Ampatuan and Datu Abdullah Sangki in Maguindanao del Sur, 100 hectares of land planted with corn, coconut and vegetables are drying up under torrid temperatures.  

“Unable to cultivate their farmlands due to the absence of rainfall, our IP farmers find themselves in dire straits, with some facing the imminent threat of starvation in the absence of government assistance,” Froilyn T. Mendoza, member of the Bangsamoro Parliament, said in a report to the United Nations Development Program in Cotabato.

The peasant group Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (or Katarungan) shared Mendoza’s undated report with CoverStory.ph. According to Katarungan, the cases she cited took place two weeks ago.  

Elsewhere, in Masbate, some fishpond owners have reported a fish kill, possibly due to the extreme heat.

Crop damage at P4B  

The prolonged drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon has damaged P4.39 billion worth of crops in at least 66,000 hectares of land, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa said at a briefing hosted by Task Force El Niño on Monday afternoon.

A total of 103 cities and municipalities and five provincesSouth Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan and Maguindanao del Sur in Mindanao, and Occidental Mindoro in Luzonhave declared a state of calamity due to severe drought.   

Drought now ‘an emergency situation'

“ … [T]his year’s El Niño has been the subject of many complaints from farmers,’’ Katarungan secretary-general Danny Carranza told CoverStory.ph via Zoom from Indonesia on Monday morning. “This is an emergency situation.” 

There’s an acute demand from farmers for water for irrigation and household use, Carranza said.  

While Task Force El Niño has described the agricultural damage as “negligible,” Carranza warned that it could lead to a “crisis in agriculture.”  

For the IP communities reeling from drying land and depleted potable water supply in Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte, Mendoza sought the immediate provision of relief goods such as food and water, as well as medical assistance.  

To help the farmers, drought-resistant agricultural and livestock-rearing practices should be adopted, she said.  

Drinking water

For May, the “last month of the cropping season,” the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) is giving the full allocation of 24 cubic meters per second to the National Irrigation Administration, Environment Undersecretary Carlos David said at the briefing, “so that this will not lay to waste our cropping season.” 

Carranza agreed that the first order of business for the local government units (LGUs) is to deliver potable water and relief goods, such as rice and canned food, to farmers and their families to see them through this dry spell.  

“The delivery of drinking water should be prioritized,” he said, adding that if the delivery of relief goods is not possible, LGUs should consider giving each farmer’s family cash assistance of P10,000 for their food and other provisions for May.   

In terms of infrastructure, farmers would rather wait for the end of El Niño before digging deep wells, diverting water from rivers to their farms, or setting up solar-powered irrigation, said Carranza, himself a coconut farmer. 

“Doing it now is impractical,” he said. 

The Department of Agriculture has released P2.16 billion worth of interventions to farmers, Assistant Secretary De Mesa said. 

The amount includes P1.065 billion in financial assistance (P5,000 to rice farmers tilling land smaller than 2 hectares) and P638 million in fertilizers and farm inputs, and P295 million worth of small-scale irrigation projects. 

Carranza said that in order to offset the damage to crops, the government should expand crop insurance to cover farmers’ losses from the drought. 

The Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. has provided P68-million indemnification to 7,322 farmers, according to De Mesa. 

Extended drought conditions  

Drought now an emergency situation
Secretaries Ted Herbosa of health and Renato Solidum of science and technology (3rd and 4th from left, respectively) and other officials field questions from reporters during a briefing by Task Force El Niño.

At the Monday briefing, Science Secretary Renato Solidum said that El Niño was weakening and transitioning to La Niña, and that this has delayed the onset of the rainy season. 

“Right now, what we are considering and should be planning [for] would be the continuation of drought conditions,” Solidum said. “The peak will still be now and May. And by June it will taper off, and drought conditions will still be experienced in eight provinces by August.”

There will be rain in May but “near-normal” rainfall will be experienced in August and September, he said. “In May, June and July, the rainfall will still not be enough. That’s why our drought condition is extended.”  

El Niño is associated with below-normal rainfall, and La Niña with above-normal rainfall. 

Undersecretary David also addressed the reported lack of water in many provinces on the country’s western section from the Ilocos to Palawan to Bulacan to Zamboanga City.

“The level of water in deep wells has dipped, but the reports reaching us is that this is still sufficient, except for Zamboanga City, where they’ve been experiencing water interruptions since February,” David said.

He said water providers in cities or municipalities may avail themselves of a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines to improve the water supply. 

To conserve water, the government has lowered the water pressure for households in Metro Manila at night, on top of reducing the water supply for the same households during the Holy Week, when many residents were away on vacation, David said.  

On Monday, the water level at Angat Dam, which supplies 90% of the metropolis’ requirements, was at 188 meters, still above the minimum operating level of 180 meters. 

‘Alarming’ dip  

“While the supply is still enough, the decrease in water level, in terms of its rate, is quite alarming,” David said. “Our water level dips at nearly 0.4 meter to half a meter each day. And therefore, we need some intervention.” 

On May 1-15, the NWRB will release the full allocation of 50 cubic meters per second to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, which regulates water in the capital and other areas, according to David. 

He said the figure amounts to 2 cubic meters per second “higher than in previous years,” given that the consumer base is expanding and consumption is rising in the metropolis. 

“So, we have enough allocation from May 1 to May 15,” David said.

Despite the full allocation, Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga is exhorting all to “chip in in conserving water,” he said.

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