El Niño and its Consequences

04.11.2016
Society Economy Environment

The drought which led to the Kidapawan incident was caused by a climate occurrence called El Niño. While El Niño itself is outside of human control, the impacts of climate effects are far-reaching and often have a human face.

Socorro Rodrigo x PAMPUBLIKO

Kidapawan is the capital of North Cotabato. It has a population of 125,447 people.1 It is a predominantly agricultural community that produces: abaca, corn, rice, durian, mangosteen, lanzones, marang, and banana.2 In early 2016, Kidapawan suffered a severe drought that caused P30 million in damages to crops, affecting 11,000 families (roughly 25% of the population). The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) predicted that the drought would only intensify in the months of March and April; by February 3, Kidapawan was placed under a state of calamity. This category gave Kidapawan access to the P4 million Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management fund.3 Over the next few months, tensions rose as some farmers claimed that promised relief goods had not come through from the local government and the Governor’s office. From March 30 to April 1, a confrontation between protesting farmers and police ended violently with three farmers dead, 116 others wounded,4 and 40 police injured.5

The drought that led to the Kidapawan incident was caused by a climate occurrence called El Niño. While El Niño itself is outside of human control, the impacts of climate effects are far-reaching and often have a human face. Changes in the climate have brought on increased incidences of natural disasters, challenged basic food security, and, in many parts of the world, served as a catalyst for sociopolitical upheaval. This article will detail the climate science behind El Niño events and the government mechanisms in place that are supposed to help Filipinos cope with the consequences.

1. El Niño and La Niña: The Science

Over the Pacific Ocean, we observe the chain of winds (known as the Walker Circulation) that exists in a particular wind-sea interaction. Specifically, the air in the western Pacific is heated by a warm body of water about the size of the continental USA. This air expands, rises, and carries moist air, which produces large amounts of rainfall near the Philippines. The risen air moves eastwards and sinks near the Americas. This air completes the cycle by moving westward to replace the rising air near the Philippines. This final segment of the Walker Circulation is called the Trade Winds.6

These conditions are considered 'neutral conditions' with respect to two other modes: First, when Trade Winds periodically decrease during what is called the El Niño season; and second, when they increase during La Niña. This fluctuation occurs every two to eight years and is called the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).7

Figure 1: Wind flow over the equatorial Pacific during neutral conditions

Neutral

With neutral conditions used as the baseline, El Niño events cause below-normal air pressure in the east and above-normal air pressure in the west. This causes or may cause the slowing or even reversal of Trade Winds. The warm body of water which causes air to rise is no longer constrained westwards by winds and spreads to the central Pacific.8

Figure 2: Wind flow over the equatorial Pacific during El Niño

El Nino

On the other hand, La Niña events have stronger Trade Winds, which cause a build-up on warm water north of Australia. Cold water rises in the east to replace the displaced warm surface water.9, i

Figure 3: Wind flow over the equatorial Pacific during La Niña

La Nina2

2. Current predictions

ENSO events are naturally occurring atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena albeit intensified and made less predictable by climate change.10 This begs the questions: if we have had El Niños and La Niñas all this time, why are we making a big deal about this one? How bad is it really?

El Niños have historically caused disasters, especially during the periods 1997-1998, 2002-2003, and 2009-2010.11 During the El Niño of 1997-1998, approximately 2.6 million Filipinos were affected by drought and 3.9 million by cyclone damage. Of the three mentioned events, the 1997-1998 occurrence was the worst and compares best to the current one as both heated the Pacific to similar extents.ii Over 1997-1998, there were severe water shortages in both rural and urban areas and the agriculture sector suffered greatly, losing up to P3 billion in rice and corn alone. The country additionally suffered forest fires and negative health impacts.12

...this April, drought will affect a maximum area of 30 provinces.

Decreased rainfall is expected from January to April in 2016. From March to May, progressively larger areas of the Philippines are likely to experience drought, or at the very least dry conditions, with the brunt of the heat experienced on the west coast. It is predicted that this April drought will affect a maximum area of 30 provinces. By May, this is expected to decrease to 23 provinces; by June, to three provinces. According to the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society, it is likely that neutral conditions will be experienced by July and possibly transition to La Niña conditions during the period from September to November.13

3. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies and Obstacles

Several mechanisms have been set in place to mitigate the effects of El Niño. On a national level, the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño (RAIN) was drafted by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and prioritizes food, energy, health, and safety. NEDA also heads a task force that includes the relevant government branches, such as the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), etc.14 That so many departments are involved speaks to the large breadth of El Niño's effects. It is to their advantage that PAGASA announcements were made as early as March of 2015. These have demanded their early action.

Health

A key vulnerability identified by all of these departments is the lack of water. Variability in weather allows for the spread of certain diseases, especially water-borne ones. Changes in precipitation, temperature, humidity, and storm patterns enable disease carriers to migrate to areas where they had not thrived before.15 As of April 2016, the DOH has already released advisories for ailments such as diarrhea, skin disease, heat cramps, and occurrences like red tide blooms.16

Energy

A decrease in inland water volume may affect hydropower, in which case Mindanao would be most affected. The DOE acknowledged how power supply will be of concern this El Niño but claimed that we should not be expecting power failure. We should have an excess of 1,300 megawatts above the 12,000 megawatts that the department expects the country will need.17

Fisheries

Fisheries are at risk because higher nationwide temperatures cause more evaporation and thus a higher concentration of dissolved substances, or higher salinity. Sensitive fish species will experience high mortality rates and a decreased water supply will also cause crowding. Water quality degrades as a result and encourages the onset of pathogens.18

During the 1997-1998 El Niño, commercial fishing, which is defined as the type of fishing where catch is taken beyond 15 kilometers away from shore with large (greater than three-ton) boats, was least affected. Marine municipal fish production, which is when catch is taken within 15 kilometers in boats smaller than three tons, benefited because El Niño allowed for a greater number fishing days at the onset. Inland municipal production, on the other hand, suffered because there was less water in lakes, rivers, etc.19 Recommendations to cope with this include water conservation or economical use of water, recycling, and maximization of fish production in the less affected parts of the Philippines.20

Agriculture

The second threatened staple food for Filipinos after fish is rice, for which water conservation is also recommended. A paper published in Disasters Journal by D. Dawe, P. Moya, and S. Valencia studied the coping strategies of farmers during the 1997-1998 El Niño through interviews with 104 farmers in the Angat-Maasim River Irrigation System (AMRIS). One central issue was that the storage dam they depended on was 53 kilometers from Manila and that consequently water supplies were given to domestic and urban households. In effect, the farmers were almost completely deprived of water.21 This case was a reflection of what happened to farmlands near urban cities all over the country, such as when Iloilo took priority over the Aganan-Santa Barbara River Irrigation System. However, agriculture seemed to take priority farther from urban centers, as in the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System and the Magat River Integrated Irrigation System. 

In order to cope, farmers attempted to raise livestock but experienced high mortality rates due to heat. They also attempted planting alternative crops but very few survived.

In order to cope, farmers from AMRIS attempted to raise livestock, but experienced high mortality rates due to heat. They also attempted planting alternative crops but very few survived. They additionally tried participating in off-farm activities, such as construction, driving, and trading, but this was difficult for those who lived in relatively isolated areas. Others reverted to taking loans out from their families.22

Through their survey of nine irrigation systems throughout the Philippines, the authors also gathered data from the managerial point of view, and concluded that PAGASA was successful in the distribution of warnings through the National Irrigation Administration. Farmers who did not receive any water at all were hired as laborers instead and rotation schemes were set in place for water distribution; however, these efforts were hindered by conflicts between upstream versus downstream or wealthier versus poorer farms—an inadequacy in monitoring and supervision.23

Layers of problems will likely be encountered this upcoming El Niño, but RAIN is expected to increase rice production by around 200,000-300,000 metric tons. This should lower the dependence on imported rice.24 For production support, rice will be given P607.5 million. Other supported groups are corn, high-value crops, livestock, fisheries, and crop pest management, each with their own budgets. Several means of mitigation include cloud seeding, small-scale irrigation projects, and repairs and operation of irrigation networks.25

Information dissemination

Clearly, information dissemination is crucial. DepEd has initiated awareness campaigns at the school level so that students may be educated about disaster awareness, practice water and power conservation, and share correct information with their communities.26

 

For all advisories and scientific predictions, it is valuable to note that the climate record is short (with exceptions like tree-rings and ice-core studies). Most of climate science works with large error margins, which they acknowledge and attempt to minimize. However, the implication is that the public and policy makers rely on estimates and inevitably their own judgment to guide climate-related decisions.27 It is thus important to take into account the nature of our changing climate and that we will deal with new and unexpected effects. That said, President Alberto Fujimori of the Republic of Peru reflected upon his country’s response to the 1997-1998 El Niño, and said that with more than six months lead-time, it is possible to formulate and successfully execute strategies for the impacts of El Niño.28 The Philippines should too hope to meet that goal and standard.

FOOTNOTES

i

This change in temperature is measured to define the strength of an ENSO event. One widely used metric for is called the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI). It is the average of three months (including the current month) of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies or variations from the mean. The specific region in the Pacific within which these measurements are taken is called “Niño 3.4” (170W-120W).

ii

The 1997-1998 ONI values were as high as  while the current one, measured from December 2015-February 2016 has a value of . Both 2002-2003 and 2009-2010 had  ONI values.

1

Philippine Statistics Authority. (January, 2010). City of Kidapawan (Capital). Retrieved April 6, 2016, from http://www.nscb.gov.ph/activestats/psgc/municipality.asp?muncode=124704000&regcode=12&provcode=47

2

Philippine Statistics Authority. (n.d.) Kidapawan City: City of Fruits and Highland Springs. Retrieved April 6, 2016, from http://www.nscb.gov.ph/ru12/Municipal%20Profile/Kidapawan%20City/Kidapawan.htm

3

ReliefWeb. (February 4, 2016). Kidapawan City declares state of calamity due to El Niño. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/kidapawan-city-declares-state-calamity-due-el-nino

4

InterAksyon. (April 1, 2016). 3 dead, 87 missing, 116 hurt as police fire on Cotabato human barricade. Retrieved April 5, 2016, from http://interaksyon.com/article/125901/breaking--security-forces-open-fire-on-cotabato-human-barricade

5

Gazette of the Philippine Government (Facebook). (April 1, 2016). Updates on the investivation of the incident in the Cotabato-Davao Highway, Kidapawan City, from Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor, the spokesperson of the Philippine National Police. Retrieved on April 5, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/govph/posts/1120976854613243

6

Glantz, M.H. Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on climate and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001). Pages 52-53.

7

Australian Government: Bureau of Meteorology. (n.d.) Climate Glossary: Southern Oscillation Index. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/glossary/soi.shtml.

8

Ibid.

9

Ibid.

10

D’Aleo, J.S. with Grube P.G. (2002). The Oryx Resource Guide to El Niño and La Niña. Westport, Connecticut: Oryx Press.

11

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. (February 2, 2016). 2015-2016 El Niño: Early action and response for agriculture, food security, and nutrition.

12

Hilario, F., R. De Guzman, D. Ortega, P. Hayman, and B. Alexander. El Niño Southern Oscillation in the Philippines: Impacts, forecasts, and risk management. Philippine Journal of Development September, 200936 (2):8.

13

Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section and Climatology and Agrometeorology Division, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration. (March 9, 2016). Payong PAGASA: Climate Outlook (March-August 2016). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://pubfiles.pagasa.dost.gov.ph/climps/climateforum/climateoutlook.pdf.

14

Department of Labor and Employment. (October 8, 2015). Baldoz assures assistance to workers to be affected by El Niño as DOLE readies P649.81M allocation for emergency employment. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.dole.gov.ph/news/view/2941.

15

Glantz, M.H. Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on climate and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001). Page 228

16

Department of Health. (n.d.) El Niño Phenomenon. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.doh.gov.ph/node/374.

17

Luci, C. (September 8, 2015). Enough power supply in 2016 – DOE. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.mb.com.ph/enough-power-supply-in-2016-doe/.

18

Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development, Department of Science and Technology. (1999). Impacts of El Niño on Philippine fisheries. Los Baños, Laguna. Page xiv

19

Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development, Department of Science and Technology. (1999). Impacts of El Niño on Philippine fisheries. Los Baños, Laguna. Pages 3-6

20

Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development, Department of Science and Technology. (1999). Impacts of El Niño on Philippine fisheries. Los Baños, Laguna. Page xv

21

Dawe, D., P. Moya, and S. Valencia. Institutional, policy and farmer responses to drought: El Niño events and rice in the Philippines. Disasters 2009, 33(2):291-307 (2009). doi:10.1111/j.0361­3666.2008.01075.x

22

Ibid.

23

Ibid.

24

Mariano, K. R. D. (December 17, 2015). P19 billion for El Niño approved by Malacañang. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Economy&title=p19-billion-for-el-ni&241o-approved-by-malaca&241ang&id=120412.

25

Morales, C. V. (2016). Agriculture and Fishery Sectors’ Action Plan on the Effects of El Niño 2015-2016.

26

Department of Education. (February 12, 2010). Mitigating the effects of El Niño/La Niña phenomenon in the school level. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.deped.gov.ph/orders/do-11-s-2010.

27

Stewart, T.R. (1997). Judgment and Decision Research and Climate Surprises. Mimeo. Contribution to an NCAR/Argonne National Labs project for DOE on Climate Surprise. Draft. in Glantz, M.H. Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on climate and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001). Page 203

28

Glantz, M.H. Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on climate and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001). Page 228

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