Press Release
February 11, 2010

Villar sounds alarm on El Niño

Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar yesterday warned of serious economic downturn as Isabela and other provinces in the south reel from dry spell due to El Niño, an abnormal weather pattern that triggers severe drought.

"We have to live to the challenges of this natural occurrence. Let's not allow the political noise to distract us from acting on this serious problem now," Villar said.

With the province of Isabela placed under a state of calamity due to the effects of dry spell and frequent brownouts now hitting parts of Visayas and Mindanao due to shutdowns of water-dependent power plants, the adverse impact of El Niño on agricultural and industrial productivity emerged again as main concern for the nation, he said.

In Isabela, the town of Cabatuan was badly hit by drought and the municipal agriculture office said about 1,200 hectares of farmland have been damaged because of dry weather.

Reports said damage to crops is expected to reach P1.5 billion in Isabela.

"The El Niño phenomenon has hit the country, and this means slower growth. Our agriculture sector will need safety nets to alleviate the impact of drought on our farmers and fisherfolk," Villar said.

"This problem needs adequate preparation as this is a year in year out phenomenon," he said. He said the Philippines is still basically an agriculture economy. Close to 40 percent of the total population is employed in agriculture and "they are the most vulnerable to the El Niño phenomenon."

Already, at least nine towns in the province of North Cotabato were affected by a series of power fluctuations last week due to power generation deficiency, which were blamed on low water level in dams and lakes caused by dry spell conditions.

The Mindanao power grid was placed under "red alert status" as water elevation of Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur and Pulangi River in Bukidnon - two major sources of hydroelectric power in the region - hit the critical level due to the dry spell.

Also last week, several parts of Metro Manila as well as some areas in Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite experienced rotating brownouts after the Manila Electric Company implemented manual load dropping as a result of the tripping of the unit 1 of the 1,000 megawatt Sual coal-fired power facility.

Further compounding this was the report that several hydroelectric power plants in the country suffered from "low water levels" due to dry spell conditions.

In Metro Manila, distribution utilities Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. have asked state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) to stop getting water from the Angat Dam for its power generation due to declining water level in the dam, the main source of water supply for 15 million residents of Metro Manila.

Equally alarming was the report last week that the dry spell has taken a heavy toll on the agriculture industry in northeastern regions of Luzon . In Cagayan Valley , drought has affected more than to P725 million worth of agricultural products.

Although the government has already prepared for El Niño, Villar said there is a need for Plan B in view of a worse case scenario. "Let's prepare for a bigger, better conservation plan. Hydroelectric plants must be protected, water for irrigation systems should be prioritized and water wastage should be avoided," he said.

Villar said the government should look into providing a livelihood assistance fund for farmers and fisherfolk who will be affected by the El Niño phenomenon.

Loans to be provided from this fund should carry very soft repayment terms, he added.

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