March 22, 2016

As the world marks World Water Day, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) criticized the Aquino government’s failure to adequately respond to the El Niño crisis which the group claims has significantly compromised water and food security in many parts of the country.

“This year while the world celebrates World Water Day, many parts of the country, particularly in Mindanao, are suffering from drought and dry spells. Based on forecasts from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the 34 provinces likely to experience drought this month will climb to 68 provinces by the end of April. The Department of Agriculture (DA) estimates that damage to agriculture from March 2015 is at P3.6 billion. We are already one year into an urgent crisis which should have elicited a more vigorous and comprehensive response from government, but what we have been seeing is the complete opposite” Gamboa said.

FDC gave as an example, the slow roll-out of El Niño mitigation measures in the agriculture sector which it says played a part in the 670,000 metric ton drop in rice production and 11% reduction in coconut oil exports this year.

“We find it scandalous that after being given at least one year advance warning of the coming El Niño, government still failed to adequately prepare for and respond to the onset of El Niño. What happened to the P19.2 billion supposedly allocated to cushion the impacts of El Niño? Given the unfolding calamities in Maguindanao, and Zamboanga—which were placed in state of calamity—and other parts of the country, the government needs to explain how this money was spent,” Sammy Gamboa, FDC Secretary-General added.

“Why is it that based on their own figures, the Department of Agriculture (DA) only managed to distribute 4,500 pieces of IEC materials, 200 doses of animal vaccines, 3,059 bags of hybrid rice and 24,066 bags of certified rice seeds. For irrigation, the DA could only come up with 3 small water impounding projects, 17 diversion dams and 284 units of pump irrigation. They had ample time and billions were allocated. Why weren’t they able to do more?” Gamboa asked.

It will be recalled that PAGASA issued an El Niño warning as early as March 2014.

“Based on PAGASA forecasts, between February to March, 21 dams and 7 watershed areas will experience rainfall that is 40% or less compared to the usual rainfall. This includes Lake Lanao which is a source of hydropower for Mindanao and Angat dam which supplies over 90% of Metro Manila’s water needs. Are there funds for contingency measures to ensure that our people’s human right to water is safeguarded if our taps run dry?” Gamboa asked.
“We hold the Aquino government accountable for exacerbating the disastrous impact of El Niño with its equally disastrous handling of preparedness and response efforts. It is scandalous that this government’s snail-paced response to the Yolanda disaster is being replicated in its sluggish El Niño effort. It should have learned its lesson by now,” Gamboa said.

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