2,000 families receive aid to combat El Niño impacts in Barmm

2,000 families receive aid to combat El Niño impacts in Barmm
Photo from Oxfam Pilipinas

WITH the imminent threat of El Niño in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm), Supreme Barmm, a consortium led by Oxfam Pilipinas, and its members distributed essential water conservation kits to up to 2,000 families to mitigate the adverse effects of the impending dry spell.

With support from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, a consortium of international and national organizations, science and academic institutions, and the private sector, collectively known as the Supreme Barmm consortium, is supporting the regional government in building resilience in the covered communities through capacity-building, policy development and mainstreaming of early warning system, anticipatory actions, and landscape.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), and Manila Observatory earlier forecast communities within the Special Geographic Area (SGA) in Barmm as high-risk areas most likely to bear the brunt of El Niño's impact in the first quarter of the year.

Using data from Pagasa, the Manila Observatory‘s analysis showed that Barmm is already at medium risk of drought.

"The best time to take action was yesterday. The next best time is now. We need to intensify our collective efforts to mitigate the adverse impact of El Nino as it peaks, safeguarding the health, food security, peace, and overall safety and protection of vulnerable communities," Oxfam Pilipinas Executive Director Erika Geronimo said.

Recent reports from these communities revealed a distressing decrease in water supply from wells, coupled with visible signs of distress such as cracked and parched farmlands, posing a serious threat to crop production and local supply chains, thus threatening food security in the region.

This prompted the release of a notice of anticipatory action activation for drought to the Ministry of Interior and Local Government and Barmm Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (Barmm-READi).

In recent months, Oxfam Pilipinas worked closely with Barmm READi and the Pre-Disaster Risks Assessment (PDRA) Group in developing Anticipatory Action (AA) Triggers and Early Action protocols for tropical cyclones, flooding, and El Niño.

Based on the protocols developed, a level one anticipatory activation for drought requires the implementation of household awareness-raising sessions and distribution of rainwater harvesters and buckets to help communities cope with the initial impacts of El Niño on vulnerable communities.

Geronimo also compared the crisis to an “asymptomatic disease” manifesting only when it is already too late.

“A slow on-set hazard like El Niño progresses even before the cracks are visible. We should not wait till we see its destructive impacts especially on vulnerable groups before taking action,” Geronimo added.

Oxfam Pilipinas and its partners have been advocating for anticipatory actions to save lives and protect livelihoods. Their anticipatory action programs have influenced government policies and actions to act preemptively when predetermined triggers are met.

The proposed Imminent Disaster Bill, which is currently under consideration, aims to ensure that government actions and fund release occur before the impact of imminent or slow-onset disasters such as El Niño.

A recent study by Oxfam Pilipinas also emphasized how anticipatory action has effectively reduced vulnerabilities and strengthened the capacity of communities to manage emergencies and protect their assets.

El Nino Alert

In May 2023, the Office of the Civil Defense Regional Office in Barmm convened a risk assessment meeting following the initial alert released by the Pagasa on the impending crisis. The discussions focused on preparedness measures, assessed potential impact areas, and delved into the effects on agriculture, water sources, marine resources, and public health.

The state weather bureau officially declared the onset of El Niño in July last year, validating the concerns raised during the risk assessment meeting and reinforcing the need for immediate action.

Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) Project Officer Joannee Mendoza-Lopez highlighted how anticipatory action as an “opportunity to build partnerships with Barmm agencies to access support for survivability and preparedness mechanisms.”

“The data collected from communities will support the Barmm agencies in implementing inclusive interventions to better manage the impacts of the El Nino to the most vulnerable,” Lopez added.

It can be recalled that El Nino affected one-third of the country from 2015 to 2016, causing USD 327 million in agricultural production losses.

Data also showed that among the 15 regions affected, Mindanao was among the worst-hit island regions. (PR)

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