Philippines: Drought and dry spells - Information Bulletin no. 1

This bulletin is being issued for information only, and reflects the current situation and details available at this time. The Philippine Red Cross, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has determined that external assistance is not required, and is therefore not seeking funding or other assistance from donors at this time.

Summary

Some 42 per cent of the Philippines is currently experiencing drought or dry spells brought on by El Niño effect. As of 15 April, 39 provinces, cities, municipalities and villages have declared a state of calamity. The worst affected areas are Mindanao and the Visayas regions. According to UN OCHA, around 181,687 farmers and 224,834 hectares of agricultural land have been affected since January 2016. Already, an estimated CHF 81 million in agricultural production has been lost. Rainfall for March was again well below normal.

So far, the Government has released funds to implement mitigation-and-response strategies addressing food security, energy security, as well as health and safety in affected communities.
Humanitarian agencies are supporting with emergency food security assessments.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has been responding to affected areas by supplying safe drinking water and food relief assistance to some of the most affected areas.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has also warned the public on the possibility of a La Niña event occurring later this year, after El Niño ends. La Niña is the opposite of El Niño and is characterized by above normal rainfall, strong monsoon activity, and formation of more tropical cyclones.

The situation

According to the World Meteorological Organization, this is one of the most powerful El Niño events in modern times and its impact will remain for several months to come. Since the first quarter of 2015, most areas of the country have experienced below normal rainfall attributed to the El Niño effect. PAGASA states that 29 per cent of the country experienced drought in March 2016, while the prediction is that 40 per cent of the country will experience drought in April, and 31 per cent in May. Most of the affected areas are in Mindanao. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as of April 16, a total of 457,497 families or 2,124,790 persons from Regions NCR, I, II, III, IV-A, IV-B, VI, VII, X, XI, XII, and ARMM have been affected by El Nino.

Less rainfall has reduced access to clean drinking water and water available for agricultural use. Parts of the country, such as Mindanao, are also experiencing a shortage of power supplied by hydroelectric dams due to the low water level. Also in Mindanao, a state of calamity was declared in Zamboanga City on 13 January 2016 due to low dam water levels. The Philippine News Agency reported that 9 out of 25 dams in the city have dried up, 6 are at critical levels, and another 10 below normal water levels.

The Department of Agriculture estimates that 181,687 farmers have been affected by the drought. Of this, 54 per cent are rice farmers, 38 per cent are corn farmers, and 8 per cent are high value crop (HVC) farmers. In terms of land area, 224 834 hectares were affected. Pest infestation is affecting 1,704 farmers in Region III, with armyworm damaging 1,060 hectares of HVCs while and rat infestation is affecting Region XII (South Cotabato, Sarangani, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat) and Region XV (Maguindanao).

Due to insufficient rainfall, few farming activities have been undertaken in other areas of the country particularly in Ilocos, Western Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Misamis Occidental, Davao Region,
SOCCSKSARGEN1 , and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The Performance of Philippines Agriculture report by Philippine Statistics Authority states an 11 per cent drop in production from the same period in 2014. Consequences are far-reaching as not only Mindanao, but the rest of the country also depends on rice supplied from these areas. Serious concerns in food security may arise, considering Mindanao’s central provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani are the rice granary of southern Philippines.

Aside from crops, fisheries have been negatively affected as well by the extreme heat and prolonged drought. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), reports a 20 per cent decline in fish catch due to warmer waters, citing that at least 100,000 fisherfolk would need to look for alternative sources of income.

Another effect of the drought season is the threat of forest fires. Forests on Mt. Apo, Mt. Kanlaon and Bud Bongao have been decimated due to burning caused by both direct and indirect effects of El Niño. Fires on Mt. Kanlaon were reportedly ignited due to heat discharged from superheated rocks. Grass fires were also reported in General Santos and Cotabato City.

It is also forecast that the La Niña phenomenon will follow once the El Niño season has ended. La Niña is predicted to bring stronger monsoon and excessive rainfall resulting in flooding. This will obviously help with the drought situation but flooding will cause damage to crops and hinder replanting, hence exacerbating the current situation.