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Scrambling to check ‘slow-onset disaster’

By LOUI MALIZA
Padayon Pilipino .

IT may sound strange to hear something like “slow-onset disaster.”  Or, was the song “Killing Me Softly” rather appropriate in describing the “phenomenon” that even disaster officials could not foresee its long run ill-effects?

However, the provincial government of Misamis Oriental is not taking any chances. Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano instructed all provincial line agencies to coordinate closely with the provincial agriculture office to confront the “phenomenon.”

“We must be ready at all times and be prepared for the worst,” Emano told provincial agriculturist Apollo Pacamalan in response to report about the onset of the El Niño phenomenon this year.

Pacamalan said that the provincial government has adopted various mitigating steps to counter the ill-effects of the El Niño phenomenon which started in February this year.

El Niño is a seasonal warming of the Pacific Ocean that upsets normal weather patterns and is causing droughts and stronger typhoon.

While admitting that the common natural disasters like floods, storms, earthquakes and landslides are instantly visible, the ill-effects of the drought are gradual and difficult to quantify.

According to Pacamalan, there are now signs that the dry spell is getting its toll in the western district of Misamis Oriental. “We are closely monitoring some towns there,” he said.

At the moment, the provincial agriculture office has already assigned several water pumps for some areas in the province’s west district, Pacamalan said.

He said that vegetable and rice seedlings are also ready for distribution to hard hit areas once the rain comes.

Starting next week, a team would be deployed to coordinate with the municipal agriculture office to conduct an assessment of the affected areas.

The quick response unit of the provincial agriculture office would conduct an assessment of crops affected in every municipal town in Misamis Oriental.

“We would apply the green, yellow and red color coding to define the severity of the drought on a daily and weekly basis on all of the province’s 424 barangay,” Pacamalan said.

“The green color means lower chances of a dry spell, the yellow implies medium chances while the red color means high risk,” he said. This technique is the first in the country, Pacamalan said.

The color coding would change every now and then, depending on the effect and the severity of the drought.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Northern Mindanao would also be provided the rapid and sectional assessment of the affected areas for possible assistance, Pacamalan said.

In 2015, the El Niño phenomenon lasted for 18 months in the Philippines, which officially ended in July 2016.   The damage to the country’s agricultural industry was then estimated to more than P4.77 billion.

The DA has prepared for the worst situation brought by the ill-effects of the drought, it described as the “slow-onset disaster or phenomenon.” Since then, the DA has included the “quick response fund” in their budget to respond to long dry spell.

DA officials have admitted then that the inability of the funds needed to address the ill-effects of the dry spell in 2015-2016 hampered the prompt release of the needed funds.

“We have quick response funds (QRF) in agencies, but these are to rehabilitate destroyed infrastructure (in times of disaster). But with El Niño, we don’t have such damage to infra so that’s the problem with the QRF,” a DA official said.

Pacamalan, however, said that when the situation worsens, the provincial government is ready to extend food assistance to highly affected farmers.

While the provincial government has funded through its “calamity funds,” Pacamalan admitted that the DA still has much to extend in situations brought about by the long drought.

“The reason that the provincial government works closely with the regional agriculture department is that the DA is equipped and prepared to address the effects of the El Niño Phenomenon,” he said.

The Agricultural Socioeconomic Profile of Misamis Oriental released in 2018 recorded more than 72,000 farmers in the province with about 200 agricultural extension workers.

In a 2017 Facts and Figures released by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the province of Misamis Oriental has 5,300 hectares rice land (both lowland and upland) with an estimated production of 21,000 metric tons during the year.

The DTI report also identified 46,000 hectares planted with corn with an estimated production of 109,800 metric tons in 2017.

(Loui Maliza is a staff member at the capitol’s press office.)

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