Preparing for the dry spell

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Monday, May 5, 2014


IT WAS again a hot day yesterday. Okay, it was a “very” hot day. It was like we were given a glimpse of what the predicted El Niño, which the weather bureau Pagasa says is supposed to begin sometime in June and would last for nine months, would be like. It’s one we should thus prepare for.

Dry spells are harsh on plants. The hill near our house is green with bushes during rainy days but the slope turns brown during extended dry episodes. The hill is now brownish green.

I was in the hinterlands of Cebu when an extended dry spell struck. Life became difficult for poor farmers who depended mainly on their farm produce to survive. A planting season lost is already tragic for them.

Cebu’s upland areas are unique in that even if its slopes are denuded, sources of water can still be had. The mountains are dotted with small natural springs that become sources of water for villagers. There are also barangays traversed by rivers and streams.

But these sources of water are fragile. They dry up one by one during extended dry spells, forcing villagers to go farther and farther for their water supply. I remember instances when quarrels erupted because of problems in sharing a supply that has gotten scarce.

This situation compounded the problem of the lack of sources of food and livelihood.

In one extended dry spell, some villagers left their farms to look for work in Metro Cebu. Others worked in the coal mines that used to proliferate in the city’s mountain barangays.

I therefore hope that officials of local government units won’t take the warnings on the onset of El Niño for granted. These officials usually live in the lowlands so they don’t feel the pinch that their constituents in the uplands are experiencing.

The Cebu City Government, for example, should already know how the upland barangays would look in an extended dry spell because of a precedent in 2007. The mountain barangays had to be placed under a state of calamity and one problem it had to solve was the scarcity of water.

I remember City Hall sending water tankers to the mountain areas and buying pumps and hoses needed for water distribution. I don’t know if the city still has the resources to meet the new El Niño challenge.

Unlike the threat of, say, a typhoon, when local government officials and the various disaster risk reduction and management officers are on their toes, the threat of El Niño is often taken for granted. This is because the effects of an extended dry spell are not felt immediately.

El Niño is the warming of the temperature of the Pacific Ocean surface that can trigger an extended dry spell or drought in certain areas and heavy flooding in others. The country will have the dry spell.

What is noteworthy is that a recent Reuters report, quoting a climate expert from Australia, said that the El Niño this year could be one of the strongest in several decades. The operative phrase there is “could be” because many meteorologists say it is still too early to come up with a definite measurement of El Niño’s strength.

Still, it is better to be prepared. In the lowlands, a strong El Niño will be felt when levels in water sources of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) begin to lower. First to be affected will surely be the Buhisan Dam in Cebu City and the weir dam in Talisay City.

Of course, it would be wrong to be jumpy. Preparation will be heavily dependent on the data that will be provided by Pagasa and other concerned government agencies. As they say, the response should be commensurate to the objective threat. But that should not make government officials complacent.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 06, 2014.

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