Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Climate Change’s little boy?

(Third of four parts)

Presently, we are experiencing less rainfall in the Philippines. Summer has come early and hotter than ever. All around the country, provinces have been crying out for help. The water resources is either falling or have fallen to critical levels, if not altogether dried up, like the catchbasin in Baguio City. The fields have cracked and crops have withered, resulting to millions of losses in agriculture.

In rural areas, water is precious to water the fields that will feed a people. I remember a story I heard from Sagada. Not so many years ago, just in the first decade of the 21st century, a tribal war was waged because of water. A tribe is claiming the rights to an important source of water. Another tribe downstream is also using the same body of water to irrigate their fields. If the upstream tribe monopolizes and diverts all the water into their fields, the downstream tribe cannot irrigate their fields and will have to relay only on rain water.Thus a tribal war was launched. It has since been resolved but not without bloodshed at first.

Now, PAGASA was playing doomsdayer when it said that the El Niño problem this year might be at par with the worst the country has experienced in the later years of 1990’s. AND that it could only be handled properly by granting the President emergency powers. On the other hand, reports are coming out that the experts are expecting only a mild El Niño this year. So which is which, may I ask?

The El Niño will no doubt have an effect on the rice producing capacity of our country. At present we are already importing much rice, (while also exporting the healthier red/brown rice upland varieties, with a drought expected, rice production is expected to fall further.

For a rice-eating nation such as ours, where a meal isn’t a meal if not eaten with rice, a rice shortage that is synonymous to rice price hikes (again!) is a serious matter. Indeed, as prices of rice per kilo have already ballooned to a minimum of P25 of NFA quality up to more than P50 for commercial varieties.

I have heard the C word again, less than a month after that bitter sugar affair. The government is again drumbeating the “need” to import tons and tons of rice to ensure rice suffieciency. Even the World Bank gave the Philippines a $5 million grant to help facilitate mitigating measures against climate change. And then it struck me, Climate Change’s little boy, the El Niño phenomenon is as much a loss as it is a gain. It is a loss to the Filipino public and a gain to the public officials.

This water crisis is a loss to the Filipino public as there is no doubt that they will be the ones very affected. Farmers who have indebted themselves when they planted this seaaon’s crops have nothing to expect except withered crops sold for nothing. The agriculture department as per its role encourages the farmers to plant more drought-resistant crops and is lending assistance through seed and pesticides. While this move can alleviate some suffering of some farmers, it is nothing but a balm to soothe the pain. In the long-run, this assistance is not enough to sustain generations of farmers and Filipinos.

While we can do short- to medium term mitigation plans, like cloud-seeding, irrigation canal building and others, we need to look further into the future and look at how land and agriculture is being used for the Filipino people.

What is baffling is the fact that the El Niño phenomenon has been around even before the Climate Change-scare raged to its height. Despite this, the government almost always seem surprised and at a loss at how to work with this phenomenon.

To be continued…

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