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El Niño in Bicol

The hottest days are yet to come. Bicol and the rest of the country will have an extended summer, a long dry spell until August or September! But the rains will still come at the least expected time.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration, temperature may rise to an extreme level until 2024. PAGASA has already issued an alert for a stronger El Niño with possible adverse effects. Will the EN (El Niño) be worse than in 2018 to 2019 or 1997-1998? We may never know how worse this will go. Scientists are saying that mother earth’s abuse affects the regular ecosystem cycle. Man-induced climate change disrupts weather patterns. If the earth continues to warm due to increased greenhouse gases, the Pacific will experience more intense and extreme heating. As a result, El Niño may occur longer and more frequently.

Last week, the Department of Interior and Local Government warned of a strong El Niño in the coming months and to prepare contingency measures. The province of Albay called out its LGUs to review action plans, and so should other LGUs to cushion the dire effects of the most severe hot weather on agriculture, infrastructure, health, water supply, and hospitals. Earlier, the Department of Education had allowed distance learning. Face-to-face classes have shifted to modular to adjust to the intensely hot weather affecting most students inside the country’s congested public schools. Katherine, my A-lister niece enrolled at the Camarines Sur National High School, informed me that their classes have already shifted back to modular learning on certain days of the week. But the extreme heat is also affecting most homes in congested urban centers. On Monday afternoon, I recall I saw some students bring their schoolwork inside the air-conditioned mall. Jokingly, I asked if they were there to study or to enjoy the airconditioned space, and all replied in unison, “parehas po, Ma’am,” without batting an eyelash. The students were in their uniforms and proud to tell me they would perform better in their classrooms if well-ventilated. I can only nod in agreement.

Task Force and Water Agency

The Department of Agriculture had reactivated its El Niño Task Force to mitigate the impact of the scorching weather on the farmers’ produce and income. The DA began promoting high-value crops adapted to hot temperatures, tolerant to drought, that farmers can harvest fast with fewer problems. However, the dried patches of land, waterless irrigation projects, and dried-up drinking water sources already show up as severe problems like a disaster. Bicol is one of 46 provinces in the country now experiencing below-average rainfall affecting palay, corn, and other staple crops. Water supply has remained a lingering problem in the country – for farm production and drinking consumption. What has happened to the newly created Water Resource Management Office or WRMO that is supposed to work in tandem with another new bureaucracy in the making called the Department of Water Management?

If unprepared, the long, extremely hot, humid weather can cause disease outbreaks, malnutrition, heat stress, heat strokes, and respiratory and infectious diseases, especially in high-risk communities without access to food, water, and sanitation. In addition, mosquitoes thrive during extreme weather – whether hot or cold. Impact on marine life on the Pacific coast, fish kills, and the safety of fisheries can reach a breaking point. We can also feel the effect of drought on the increased electric cost when people use more electricity to cool themselves and sell products that provide relative comfort from the extreme heat.

Dealing with El Niño

We have experienced unusual droughts and severe weather disturbances in the past decades. But the worse is yet to come if we do not address the roots of the problem: climate change and manufactured abuse of the Earth.

Bicol is known for typhoons, rains, and flooding that can reach disastrous proportions. When El Niño strikes, the impact is as devastating. La Nina and El Niño are extreme weather occurrences due to irregular, periodic warming and cooling of the wind and sea surface changes over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. When warming than average, it is called El Niño, and when cooling than average, it is called La Niña. Upsetting the regular normal flow and pattern of nature can cause weather disruptions. For example, with more moisture air rising because of intense heat, El Niño can cause rainstorms and heavy rains to flood vulnerable communities.

El Nino can be both kind and cruel. For businesses, sales can increase for foods, drinks, and products that satisfy thirst and discomfort. MSMEs like healthy beach resorts, fabulous spas, airconditioned gyms, water refilling, comfort food, and cool beverages but EN is cruel to businesses that use more electricity and fuel. Social enterprises should be weather-resilient and sustainable, like handmaking more pamaypay, plants and greens, ecological parks, and nature-tripping travels. With resource constraints, conserve and use water wisely—combat pollutants and artificial/ synthetic plastics that destroy the environment. Develop and tap solar power, ocean current, nature-based energy sources. For health, keep hydrated, drink clean water, adopt more plant-based solutions like citronella, eat organic vegetables, and maintain healthy lifestyles.

Climate change is the culprit. Let us develop and modernize. However, policy interventions like protecting our forests, returning to nature, equitable distribution of resources in the community, not just for a wealthy few, and building up a green economy are crucial to reversing its dire impact. What a beautiful Bicol to have!


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