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The threats of La Niña

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Floods are ‘acts of God,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man. – Gilbert F. White

The PAGASA has officially announced the onset of the rainy season. Way before this official announcement it forecasted that after the drought, the La Niña will hit the country, this time with heavy rains and floods. The weather bureau initially predicts a two-month lingering of the weather phenomenon with its impact might be worse than El Niño.

BRACING HEAVIER DAMAGE

Weather phenomena bring damages, and they can only get worse under the climate change crisis besetting us. As a developing country under economic recovery still reeling from drought we expect that storms and floods to bring worse impact mainly on human health, agriculture and the entire economy.

The PAGASA activated its La Niña watch and has warned of eminent floodings in lowlands mainly in agriculture areas and can cause extensive damage to various crops yet to recover from drought. We must brace ourselves for more devastating damage considering that the second half of each year is storm season – typhoons, earthquakes and floods. This explains that the Philippines is in the top 10 of most vulnerable countries in the world most vulnerable to natural calamities given our geographical location.

Worsened by the La Niña are increased heavy and excessive rainfalls and high floods are expected to come. Manifested by above-normal rainfall that can be beneficial by filling in major and big water reservoirs, but high levels of floods will take their toll on low agricultural and residential areas. Rains and floods erode soil snatching nutrients resulting in crop damage and displace people from their homes.

Crop destruction disrupts agricultural production especially if these are high valued crops nearing harvest period which is usually the case for rice and corn. For sugarcane, waterlogs on low production areas develop into diseases caused by fungus and other harmful microorganisms affecting crop quality, eventually resulting in an outbreak. Moreover, damage to livestock, contamination of potable water supply are most likely to happen. In the coastal areas floods and strong waves affect fishermen’s livelihood and home damage causing relocation among coastal inhabitants. More than the quality of crop, productivity is reduced, distorting the product value chain especially the market aspect that slows down the economy. The larger the damage, the bigger the loss, the slower the economy.

The worst impact storms and floods bring are human diseases, home displacements and stoppages of work suspending human activity and productivity and more often than not, the loss of lives.

For 2024, PAGASA projects around 13 to 16 storms will hit the Philippines. Over-all, this will disrupt economic growth including inflation slowing down the economy. In recent years, tropical storms Peang and Karding caused damage to agriculture alone of close to 10 billion pesos. In 2021 super typhoon Odette was more devastating, causing the Philippine economy almost 25 billion pesos.

MITIGATION MEASURES

The onset of the rainy season and the onslaught of La Niña must be seriously anticipated, and measures must be underway as early as we speak. Thus, we enumerate important measures in preparation to mitigate its undesirable impacts. One is the constant monitoring and early warning designs and measures for the citizens to get informed as early as possible. Also, task forces including civilian groups must be mobilized for rescue and aid operations.

In agriculture, early warnings allow the farmers to adjust production such as crops selection for planting and equally important is the timing for plantation and harvest. Planting and harvesting crops before storms strike is crucial. Land preparations and enhancing drainage systems as water tributaries to avoid excessive floodings damaging crops is also important. Planting areas can be temporarily elevated to minimize over supply of water and lagging. Diversification by way of crop rotation and intercropping is an important measure to maintain soil nutrients in cases of siltation and erosion by planting leguminous crops that provide nutrients to soil. This is important to high valued crops that are seen to be affected on a larger scale. Preparing extra or temporary water reservoirs and designing irrigation structures can also help. Lastly, insurance for crops and financial contingencies must be on stand-by to immediately recoup losses that may be incurred. 

These are not new and may be repeated recommendations but what must be seriously undertaken is the clear intervention of the major stakeholder to significantly mitigate the anticipated damage La Niña will bring. It is the government – its units and agencies.*

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