Are we ready for La Niña? | Inquirer Opinion

Are we ready for La Niña?

/ 05:10 AM May 19, 2024

Last week’s rain showers in some areas brought much-needed relief to a country experiencing a harsh dry season. The weather bureau has warned that La Niña, which often follows an El Niño weather event, will bring more rain than usual—making it both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those whose livelihood depends on the bounty of the land, a curse for those who suffer from the impact of increased rainfall.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we ask: How ready is the country for La Niña?

Although the government does not have control over extreme weather events that are occurring more frequently due to global heating, it must still ensure that measures are in place to reduce the risks and mitigate their impact, especially on vulnerable communities. El Niño has already brought much devastation to the agriculture sector—as of May 2, per the Department of Agriculture, damage to agriculture has reached P5.90 billion, affecting 113,585 farmers and fisherfolk, with the government extending P2.18 billion worth of interventions to them.

Greater damage


The country has barely escaped the impact of the drought and here comes another extreme weather event expected to cause even greater damage to agriculture and property. Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. said there is a 62 percent chance of the La Niña phenomenon developing from June to August. “Ibig sabihin niyan, mas maikli ’yung lead time … mas konti lang ’yung panahon natin maghanda, so dapat handang-handa tayo parati sa mga bagyo (This means a shorter lead time … not enough time to prepare so we should always be ready for typhoons),” said Solidum.

As a disaster-prone country hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year, both the government and the public need not be reminded of this. Tropical Storm “Ondoy,” which dumped more than a month’s worth of rain in Metro Manila in 2009 and paralyzed national and local government operations, serves as a good reminder. Ondoy spurred new laws such as Republic Act No. 9729 (Climate Change Act of 2009), which mainstreamed climate issues into government policies, and RA 10121 (Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act), which institutionalized disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).

Massive flooding

Still, the government’s DRRM services need more work and innovation to keep up with increasingly extreme weather events. Despite measures outlined in those laws, Bulacan and Pampanga were still caught unprepared last year by the southwest monsoon enhanced by Typhoons “Egay” and “Falcon” which brought massive flooding and damage. Both provinces were placed under a state of calamity with President Marcos issuing a directive to prioritize flood control projects. This year, the government allotted P35.5 billion for the construction of 430 projects, including raising by 0.7 meters the Tulaoc bridge in San Simon, Pampanga portion of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx). This part of NLEx was among those that experienced massive flooding after the river overflowed due to torrential rains.


Work has been completed on NLEx, per Speaker Martin Romualdez who met last Tuesday with Cabinet officials for La Niña preparations. “’Yung nangyari sa Pampanga, sa NLEx, siguro hindi na naman ’yun mauulit kasi ’yung mga kalsada, ’yung construction na ginawa last year tapos na (What happened in Pampanga, in NLEx, will probably not happen again because construction work last year has already been completed),” Romualdez said.

Water management


But it is not enough to build flood control infrastructure—government must ensure they are made with quality materials to withstand strong typhoons. The same goes for permanent shelters where affected communities could be relocated; unfortunately, local governments still resort to using classrooms or basketball courts that offer little safety from the elements. The construction of these permanent shelters should already be integral to the government’s DRRM program.

The coming La Niña is also a perfect opportunity for government to execute the integration of flood control and water management programs. Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Manuel Bonoan said the President has already instructed concerned agencies to “integrate our flood control management programs with the other sectors so that the water … [does] not go to the sea indirectly and … we [can] conserve and utilize for the other purposes like for irrigation, water supply, and power if necessary.” Bonoan said DPWH was allocated P300 billion this year for foreign-assisted and locally-funded flood control projects, which could also be funneled into this planned integration.

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These plans all look good on paper and whether they have been put into action—and implemented properly—will be tested when La Niña comes. There is little time left. If these plans do not materialize, the public, as usual, is the one that will suffer the fury of these extreme weather events.


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