Government urged to help farmers affected by El Niño
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Francis Escudero is calling on government agencies to prepare alternative employment and emergency assistance for farmers who will be affected by El Niño this year.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, lamented that the Department of Agriculture (DA) failed to use its budget to prepare farmers for the impact of El Niño.

The Senate finance committee has made available around P5 billion for 2015 to the DA to address the problem of El Niño through interventions such as the Small Water Impounding Project, which is meant to improve irrigation facilities in preparation for the dry months. But Escudero said the DA failed to do its job.

“The Department of Agriculture should be in the forefront of this, but based on our analysis, the DA has been very slow in responding to this issue as manifested by its underspending. It’s very slow in releasing funds for this purpose,” he added.

For this reason, Escudero is calling on the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to be more proactive in addressing problems that may be caused by the phenomenon.

“Our farmers are going to need all the help they can get in the coming months, and national agencies should be ready to work with local governments to pull our farmers through this difficult season,” Escudero said in a media briefing in Daet, Camarines Norte, one of the provinces bracing for an extended dry spell.

Escudero urged TESDA to provide farmers with agriculture-related technical and vocational skills training so that they can find other sources of income when working at the farm proves to be unproductive.

As for the DSWD, the senator said the agency should ensure that families of farmers affected by the drought will receive financial assistance through the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

“The government has to be proactive and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Our farmers have to be given all kinds of assistance to make up for the projected crop losses because of the drying up of farmlands,” he added.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has warned that the present moderate El Niño conditions could intensify by the end of the year and even surpass the strength of the El Niño in 1997 to 1998, which was the worst dry spell in the Philippines.

The 1997-1998 episode caused severe drought in 70 percent of the country and damaged 292,000 hectares of rice and corn plantations. It cost the agriculture sector at least P3 billion in damage, according to PAGASA and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

The weather bureau has warned that El Niño conditions could become stronger starting October and peak by November or December when the sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific will become much hotter than average.

Sen. Grace Poe said the impacts of climate change are putting a bigger burden on the government’s resources as extreme weather events continue to create a new demographic of poor Filipinos.

Poe said at least 12 million Filipinos are at risk for the hazards brought about by storms and floods, the second biggest population of at-risk people in the Asia Pacific region.

From 1998 to 2009, the country has lost at least $24 billion in GDP value due to the impact of climate change, the senator said, citing a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Extreme weather conditions destroy not just people’s homes but also their sources of food and livelihood. With every storm that passes, more people are displaced, more people go hungry, more lose their livelihood,” Poe said.

“Climate change just keeps creating a new set of poor Filipinos, so we have to mitigate its impact,” she added.

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