In the middle of 2009, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) already warned that El Niño was coming but assured however that there was no need to panic. (See Inquirer.net report.)
The effects of El Niño phenomenon are now felt in various parts of the country. In Western Visayas for example, dry spell is already felt. As reported by Inquirer.net, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is projecting losses of up to P700 million in rice and corn farms.
In northern parts of the country, farmers are trying to save their crops. In Cagayan Valley region, Isabela and Cagayan provinces are now placed under state of calamity due to dry spell that hit the provinces. In a report by Jun Marcos in the Manilatimes.net, Department of Agriculture (DA) estimated that the crop losses due to El Niño have reached nearly to P2 billion in Region 2.
What is El Niño phenomenon?
El Niño is an abnormal weather pattern caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean. It is characterized by climatic aberrations around the world-warming in South America, torrential rains in North America, and drought in Southeast Asia and Australia. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years. (Source: GMA News Research)
GMA News Research itemized the Climatic Indicators of El Niño:
- delayed onset of the rainy season
- early termination of the rainy season
- weak monsoon activity (isolated heavy downpours with short duration)
- weak tropical cyclone activity
The 1997-98 El Niño
Long and severe droughts already hit the Philippines in 1982-1983 which severely hit Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Northern Visayas and Western Mindanao. The 1992-1993 dry spell caused 4.1 billion Pesos damage to agriculture. The 1997 to 1998 drought damaged some 8.46 billion Pesos to agriculture.
The Philippine mass media, both print and broadcast, gave wide coverage of 1997 and 1998 El Niño. As early as 1995 PAGASA already provided early warning and closely monitored the weather conditions.
The case study on Impacts and Responses to the 1997-98 El Niño Event identified three important lessons learned on the 1997-98 El Niño:
- Political will and policy articulation
- Creation of Task Force El Niño
- Extensive information dissemination
In 1997-98 drought, we saw how President Fidel Ramos got involved and mobilized executive machineries to mitigate the ill effects of drought to two most vulnerable sectors: agriculture and environment.
Yes, there was Task Force El Niño that lay out the comprehensive plans on coping mechanisms to minimize the impact of El Niño. I remember how farmers were informed and consulted. The approach was participatory, thus every was involved. As student during that time, my involvement was more in information dissemination.
As I have said, both print and broadcast media gave wide coverage of 1997 and 1998 El Niño aside from national elections. Yes, in 1998, we elected new president. Now, in 2010, we will again elected new president! I wonder if there is connection on that.
How to minimize the impact El Niño?
Based on our 1997 and 1998 experience, it would not be difficult to identify coping mechanisms. I would say, aside from PAGASA who give us information, the President should be deeply involved.
We know that funding is crucial in an environmental emergencies like the El Niño. Preparedness is one important factor also. Before all farms dried up, there should already been some measures done.
Of course, we cannot stop the drought but we can at least minimize its effects.
Role of internet: blogs, social networks
We saw how mass media played very important role on information dissemination in 1997-98 drought. Now, I think online media need to articulate also their role in helping our nation minimize the effects of weak El Niño this year.
Would you help?