Effects of dry spell in Zamboanga City continue to worsen

rice farmer
DREADED DROUGHT. Rice farmers are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the ongoing El Niño.
Local officials fear that apart from rivers drying up and crops being damaged, El Niño will cause bush fires

MANILA, Philippines (Jan. 15, 2016) — After passing a resolution declaring a state of calamity in Zamboanga City on Tuesday, January 11, local officials have started finding ways on how to cope with the continuing dry-spell in their city.

As of Friday, January 15, about 1,000 hectares of rice crops in barangays Culianan and Mercedes have already been damaged, 8 irrigation dams are in critical level, while 15 are in near critical level, according to Diosdado Palacat, head of the Office of the City Agriculturist.

Zamboanga City Water District have earlier implemented a water rationing in the city.

“The temperature brought by El Niño here is extraordinary. A month ago, the canal still had water. Now, the soil is already cracked. The water quickly dissipated,” Palacat explained in both English and Filipino.

Meanwhile, cost of damage already reached P11 million ($230 million).

Actions taken

The city disaster council, the mayor and members of the Sangguniang Panglungsod convened earlier today to discuss the needs of the Office of the City Agriculturist and Zamboanga City Water District.

Palacat said their office is now in the process of requesting 10 million pesos ($200 million) for the procurement of seeds, fertilizers, water pumps, and drilling rigs for the farmers, the most affected by this phenomenon that started in 2015.

These will be distributed in February, according to Palacat.

The main office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has sent assistance to the city by giving out water pumps, which will be delivered on Monday, January 18, at the latest. The Philippine Air Force also extended assistance to the city.

Meanwhile, the agriculturist’s office is also in the process of submitting the requirements for cloud seeding. While this process can help affected areas, the farmers, however, prefer acquiring drilling rigs, Palacat said.

“If we’re going to distribute water pumps, but there’s no one to create holes on the ground, how will we get water? That’s our priority now,” Palacat explained.

Bush fires

Local officials fear that apart from rivers drying up and crops being damaged, the current El Niño will cause more adverse effects such as bush fires.

“If this El Niño worsens and continues in the next 2 months, that’s already the worst. It would really be dry. What we are worrying is the occurence of bush fires,” according to Palacat.

The El Niño phenomenon is expected to persist until June of this year, bringing below-normal rainfall in most parts of the Philippines.

In 2014, about 40 incidents of bush fire were recorded, leaving various crops such as coconuts, unusable, according to Palacat.

Palacat advises planting different varieties of rice in areas that still have steady supply of irrigation water. Cigarettes should be disposed properly after use and plantation areas should also be regularly maintained to avoid bush fires.

This is not the first time the city declared a state of calamity since the El Niño started.

In April 2015, Zamboanga City also declared a state of calamity after it left P132.54 million ($2.7 million) worth of damage and affected over 8,924 hectares of land planted with rice, corn, assorted vegetables, banana, rubber, cassava, and coconut.


rappler_64  by Gwen de la Cruz | Rappler.com