01/29/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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El Niño is back in the Philippines, so is drought

by Santosh Digal
A shortage in rainfall is reducing reservoir water levels. Sugar prices jumps 20 per cent in a few weeks. Over the next six months, plantations could lose up to US$ 215 million. Government urge people to ration water in the home, at work and in shopping venues.
Manila (AsiaNews) – After last month’s floods, the Philippines is now bracing for drought because of El Niño. A looming water shortage will affect hydroelectric power stations and lead to cuts. Manila has already experienced serious blackouts. Sugar production will be hard hit and prices have already jumped by 20 per cent. Experts at the Department of Agriculture (DA) expect plantations to suffer losses worth PHP 10 billion (US$ 215 million) over the next six months.

The government is urging the population to ration water in the home, at work and in shopping venues. It has already allocated PHP 1.6 billion (US$ 36.5 million) for agriculture.

Last August, British scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research reported that El Niño would make a comeback in early 2010.

The cyclical phenomenon occurs every two to seven years with changes of +0.5 to +1.5 degrees centigrade above average across much of cold waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean.

It entails changes in ocean currents and can cause drought in Africa and Asia as well as heavy rainfall in South America.

The 1997-98 El Niño combined with global warming caused major droughts and catastrophic forest fires in South-East Asia. This sent a pall of smoke right across the region with heavy financial losses for agriculture.

Filipino Agriculture Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla said the country could expect a “moderate” El Nino this year, which may affect large plantations of rice, corn, fisheries, and high value crops such as sugar cane and vegetables.

More than 500,000 hectares of rice, 270,000 hectares of corn, 17,000 hectares of fisheries and more than 3,000,000 metric tonnes of vegetables are the most at risk. Visayas and Mindanao, where farming is concentrated, are the most vulnerable regions.

In the meantime, the National Food Authority will make available 150,000 kilos of sugar for the poorest residents of Metro Manila, thus countering the effects of any price hike.

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