“”When the well dries up, even the fool saves water.” This axiom came to mind as forecasts of El Nino, searing the country, sent everyone scrambling . Well, almost everybody.
Of the country’s 126 cities, the most vulnerable to dry spells is Cebu. How will El Nino affect a city crammed with migrants, collapsing aquifers, salt contaminated wells and biologically dead rivers? City Hall couldn’t be bothered.
There’s an “above 50 percent chance” that moderate El Niño conditions will set in , the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration cautioned. Warmer-than-usual readings, 200 meters below ocean surface, have been noted, US Climate Prediction Center reports.
El Niño is argot for warming or cooling of surface waters in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. It occurs anywhere between four to 12 years. El Niño can come in tandem with “La Nina”: Droughts are trailed by tropical cyclones.
El Nino has an “uncanny way of taking place during or after a financial crisis” , Union Bank of Switzerland observes. After the 1997 Asian crisis, El Nino cut Philippine output to 1.2 percent from the 5.6 percent.expansion forecast.
El Nino today follows lingering effects from global recession and swine flu. It could affect wheat harvests in Australia and palm oil output in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’d crimp rice harvests here, Reuters reports..
Rice shortages and pilas, in a tense election year, is political dynamite. If El Nino straddles the dry cropping season it’d blight nearly 544,000 hectares planted to rice, Agriculture Undersecretary Bernardo Fondevilla estimates “If we have to import rice, we will.”
National Economic and Development Authority reactivated it’s El Niño Task Force to craft mitigation plans. .National Irrigation Authority will shut down irrigation taps in Camarines and Sorsogon. Negros Occidental reports onset of El Nino-like spells. “Breadbaskets”, like Mindanao, still have to be heard from.
Metro Manila now tracks the slump in water levels of Angat and other reservoirs. Flyers on water conservation have been published. They signal other cities of what they must do, but soon..
“We can draw lessons from the past,” US Lyndon Johonson once mused. “But we can not live in it.”. The 1997-1998 El Nino, for example, compelled “excessive draw downs”, recalls Leonardo Liongson of UP’s National Hydarulic Center, That triggered irrigation cuts for over 10 months. El Nino’s reappearance, in 2001-2003, forced “low or zero” allocations, over brief periods for irrigation.
Unlike Burma or Malaysia, we’re not water rich. In 2000, we had only 6,332 cubic meters of total actual renewable water resources per capita, Asian Development Bank notes. That dipped to 5,880 cm five years later. It is still falling today.
Water remains clear upstream. But it morphs into a murky lethal cocktail as it meanders through littered rivers and chemical tainted creeks More than half ( 58 percent ) of groundwater today is contaminated. Of 457 water bodies classified by DENR, only half ( 51% ) meet 1996 water standards.
Two- third of rivers no longer provide potable water. Pag walang tubig na linaw, iinumin kahit labo, the Tagalog proverb says.(“It there is no clear water, one will drink even the turbid.”)
Children are specially vulnerable to water-borne diseases. Annual infant deaths, from diarrhea alone, exceed the toll of Mindanao armed clashes, Viewpoint commented in “Poisoned Wells ( CDN/ Jan 8,2008) This ecological decay spawns a Jekyll-and-Hyde paradox : from life giver, water turns into a killer,.
“ Indeed, it is a grave moral shortcoming if people can not drink water without courting disease or death,” Worldwatch Institute’s Sandra Postel stresses.
Scampering to cushion El Nino’s blows is essential . But who among those who proclaim themselves fit to lead this troubled nation., have looked beyond periodic crises? Who has really grappled with long term water security?
Few budged when Japan International Cooperation Agency warned back in 1998: Unless decisive reforms were adopted, water resources would be at a critical stage by 2025. Main cities and eight of 19 major river basins, will be parched or polluted
Many developing countries risk mortgaging their water security, in a decade or two, if business-as-usual mindsets persist, cautioned ADB vice president Ursula Schafer-Preuss
Cebu City exemplifies this “tomorrow-will-be-another- today mentality.”.The burg is 99% dependent on water mined from collapsing aquifers. The city siphons twice what is recharged. Water tables have slumped. Salt water has seeped into aquifers by Cebu foothills over eight kilometers inland. This is irreversible damage.
Metro Cebu Water District serves only 55% of residents whose number quadrupled since 1940. The number of homes with water taps is a fraction more than when Mayor Tomas Osmena took over City Hall. three terms back.
He denies a water crisis even as he steps down from city hall. Thus, he blocked proposals to pipe surface water from outside the city. That’s the only alternative to terminal collapse of aquifers.
In so doing Osmena also scrubbed long term water supply for his pet project: the 297-hectare South Reclamation project. No investor of sound mind will build in an area that drills into already collapsing aquifers for water.
In Shakespeare’s inimitable phrase, Mayor Osmena “hoisted himself with his own petard”. He did it with superb efficiency.Sure. But that, alas, is not a substitute for water policy.