The Blood in Water: What we can do about El Niño

No water, no life. Without government support, farmers become vulnerable to and are not spared from the impacts of climate change. (Photo from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance)

Land is life and water is blood. This was how a community elder in Ifugao described the importance of water to the indigenous peoples. The same can be said for farmers who depend on water to nourish the land, which will bring life to the people.

But does the land have to turn bloody in the thirst for water?

Last April, the nation was swept with outrage when hungry farmers in Kidapawan were fed bullets by state forces instead of the rice that they were asking for.

It was a tragic irony that the producers of food are the ones asking for food relief, rendered horrendous by the response that they got from the very institution that was supposed to represent their interests. Worse still, the violence and the violations are being white-washed, and justice has yet to be served for the victims.

For days, the farmers in Kidapawan endured the heat and the hunger, hoping that the government would give them the food and agriculture support that it had accessed, given the drought and huge agricultural losses it caused. They were not ready to return home empty-handed, for there was nothing to eat there, only the destruction and the hopelessness caused by a phenomenon called El Niño.

What is El Niño?

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website, El Niño is the unusual warming of the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific, usually occurring every two to nine years, starting in the months of December to February, and lasting until the first half of the following year or longer once established.

According to the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the phenomenon was first observed by South American fishermen who experienced the unusually warm weather.  El Niño, which is Spanish for The Little Boy or Christ child, was so called because of its tendency to occur around Christmas.

In the country, the phenomenon is usually indicated by the delayed onset and early termination of the rainy season, as well as weak monsoon activity like isolated short, heavy downpours.

This year, warmer than average temperatures was experienced across the country. The highest daytime temperature recorded by PAGASA was 40.1 degrees Celsius last April 27 at Isabela State University-Echague. Although PAGASA is monitoring the developing La Niña, characterized by unusually cold temperatures, they are predicting generally warmer than average air temperatures still for the month of May.

What can farmers do?

As the case of the Kidapawan farmers illustrates, the phenomenon can have grave impacts to the agriculture industry. This is exacerbated by the rapid and intense changes brought about by climate change, affecting crop and food production.

These changes have become the “new normal” but farmers have the capacity to adapt to these changes. In an article of Rangtay, the official publication of the Office of Extension Services in Benguet State University, the Climate Smart Agriculture Center (CSAC) provided some tips in coping with climate change.

First, in choosing crops, chose varieties that are resistant to drought during prolonged drought, to extended flooding, and to pest and diseases. Practicing multiple cropping and crop rotation is also advised.

Second, practice responsible use of farm chemicals. Minimize the use of farm chemicals and follow the recommended rate of application. Decompose chicken manure before using, and practice balanced fertilizer usage.

Third, use bio-control agents like predatory mites to control pests. Do not spray if there are only one or two pests observed, use the “pis-it” method.

Finally, do not use contaminated water for irrigation.

What can we do?                                                

The impacts of climate change and El Niño are experienced not just by farmers, but every human being and living thing in the planet. Thus, it is our responsibility to do our part to ensure that this world remains suitable and sustainable for the present and future generations.

Below are some water conservation tips from the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR):

  1. Turn the faucet off firmly to prevent leakage. Installing low volume/high pressure (LV/HP) nozzles or flow constrictors helps reduce water usage by up to 50 percent.
  2. Use the water dipper (tabo) and pail (timba) instead of the shower while taking a bath.
  3. Instead of running water, use a glass of water while brushing your teeth.
  4. Buy new, water-efficient toilet bowls that consume only 2.6 – 4 liters of water for every flush. Old models use up to 14 liters of water per flush.
  5. Discard leftover food before washing dishes. As much as possible, use a basin (palanggana) to save water as well as dishwashing soap.
  6. Wash all your clothes at once. Don’t allow the water in your washbasin (batya) to overflow.
  7. Reuse water from your laundry to flush your toilet, clean your car, or water your garden plants.
  8. Instead of a water hose, use only a pail and a towel in washing your car.
  9. Water your plants only before sunrise or after sunset to prevent water loss due to vaporization.
  10. Collect rainwater with pails and basins, and store it for future use (e.g., watering the plants, cleaning the house).
  11. In restaurants and hotels, serve water to guests only when they ask for it. Collect leftover drinking water, and use it to water your garden plants.
  12. Switch off the water valve in buildings that are not operational at night. Turn off the gate valve in the evening, and turn it on again the following morning.

Water is life, as precious as the land that ensured the lives of generations. More importantly, water, as well as other resources vital to man’s survival, can be shared; shared with the present and the future. Thus, it is a shared responsibility, for nothing can be greater than sharing life.

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