El Niño – A Challenge to Overcome; A Call for Solidarity

Staggering lack of water supply, cracked dry farm grounds, and almost dried up rivers – these are but a few scenarios of the ongoing El Niño phenomenon here in Zamboanga City. We have been experiencing this drought since January of this year but the situation seemed to worsen as months went by. As part of Silsilah Dialogue Movement’s advocacy to spread awareness of what is happening in our environment, the 37th Kapihan sa Silsilah focused on this particular issue with the theme: “El Niño in Zamboanga: Situations and Solutions, A Call to Solidarity.”

Held in the afternoon of April 22, the 37th Kapihan was attended by representatives from both local government and non-government organizations in the city. Educators from different schools and universities were also well represented. Participants listened intently as speakers from the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD), Zamboanga City Planning and Development Office, and Western Mindanao State University shared the present status of El Niño in the city and the concrete steps each of these concerned institutions are taking to provide solutions to the many problems brought about by this phenomenon. Most obvious of these resulting problems are the even worsened lack of water supply and the impact to the agricultural sector of the city. Tantamount to these concerns are the many other implications such as economic losses due to damaged crop productions and the health hazards to the majority of the populace.

Representing Zamboanga City Water District, ZCWD Assistant Manager, Engr. Arnulfo Alfonso shared to the body the present status of Zamboanga water supply and the data showing the effects of draught starting early this year up to the present month. Pictures of the water level in the different water reservoirs in the city spoke for themselves. The first few months of this year saw the lowest percentage level of water for the past four years. The short term solution ZCWD is taking, Engr. Alfonso said, is the water rationing. Mobile tanks go on a daily schedule to barangays and area where water supply through pipes could no longer reach. Despite this effort, Engr. Alfonso admitted that the whole problem was not addressed. For this reason, ZCWD with some interventions coming from the local government entered into an agreement with Manila Water, a private company, to improve the city’s water supply by devising Non-Revenue Water (NRW) reduction. This projected solution started early this year by pipe laying activities that are still going on. Thru this, Engr. Alfonso said that the city’s water supply will have a progress in the years to come. Yet, having said this, Engr. Alfonso was convinced that human interventions concerning water conservation and environmental care still play a large role should we desire a lasting solution to the problems.

Given a bigger role to lead in looking for solutions to the problems caused by this draught, the city government of Zamboanga laid out contingency plans and actions for the city. Being knowledgeable of the proceedings taken by the city government, Ms. Ofelia Despalo showed to the body some helpful information about the feasibility studies conducted early this year and some concrete steps in response to the problems we are continuously encountering. She presented a comprehensive plans and targets for the situation. Economically, the city is really affected by the agricultural impact of drought. Millions worth of damages and loses were recorded. To address this, the city government conducted the following activities such as Provision/Utilization of Water Pumps; Distribution of free seeds of rice varieties adaptable to saline, drought, and flood prone areas; Provision of City Calamity Assistance targeting agricultural supplies, water pumps, etc.; PAG-ASA, DOST, City Government & ZCWD Coordination/convergence for Cloud Seeding Operations February 15 – 28, 2016. Despite the fact that El Niño is a natural phenomenon, Ms. Despalo pointed out that Climate Change had affected much to its impact.

The last speaker to present that afternoon was Mr. Noel Salatan, a faculty member of Western Mindanao State University, College of Forestry. While much of the presentations of the preceding speakers were focused on data status and solutions conducted by each institution, Mr. Salatan shared the scientific background of the phenomenon itself. He pointed out the triggering human factors that affected the environment in a large scale. Everything that happens in nature is interconnected. He affirmed that climate change really plays a role in what is happening. The continuing industrialization without concern to the environment worsens the situation. Much to his surprise, people nowadays don’t seem to care for trees. He then encouraged the body to reflect on an integral ecology where each individual cares for his/her relation with the environment.

Do we consider this present reality? It is with hope that as we experience the lack of this fundamental need of human life, we also consider acting as responsible individuals who care for the future generations who will inherit this world from us. We can start by doing little acts of love – plant more trees, conserve water, avoid burning garbage, and start garbage segregation. Let’s be in solidarity not only among ourselves, but also with our environment, the Earth – our common home.

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