Looming water crisis-4

It did not take long for several local governments to declare a state of calamity for lack of rain that is already destroying millions of pesos worth of agricultural crops. The potable water situation in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces is getting worse by the day and the water level in the several dams serving these places and their farms continues to drop.

There are now calls for cloud seeding and people thought the rains last Tuesday and Wednesday, slight as they were, was already the result of cloud seeding. Well, it was not but what might make skeptics sneer is that there were prayers for rain by the Occidental Negros provincial employees on those same days. According to Governor Alfredo Marañon, they did that in a pilgrimage to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Japan. They did their own oratio emperata for rain and the heavens opened a bit and gave us a brief relief. If the situation got worse, the only recourse we have is to storm heaven with prayers, the oratio emperata. But we have not reached that point yet, hopefully will not.

Of course, cloud seeding will do a lot to alleviate the situation but that solution is not cheap. Anyway that is cheaper than an irreversible loss of plants and animals and bursting of forest and grass fires if the dry spell continued. In fact, last week there was a forest fire in Patag but was contained though the embers continued for several days, creating fears the fire would spread. There is a message from that fire and we are helpless to stop it except by heavenly intervention. 

What is disturbing is the suggestion that the farmers “don’t plant rice” at the moment. Rather they should shift to crops that will not require so much water. But that is easier said than done. People plant not only for home subsistence but for the market as well. People cannot subsist on nuts, melons and cantaloupes.

This suggestion however, presages a possibility that rice will be scarce again and the government has to open its doors to importation.

One thing I cannot understand is the statement reportedly from Agriculture Secretary Emanuel Piñol saying that the situation is being exaggerated. Does he not believe the information coming from all over the country about fields drying up and crops withering from lack of water? Is he just sitting in his air-conditioned room while the land is parching?  

Well, perhaps Piñol is getting a different feedback from the realities on the ground that he has not been reported to be doing something about the situation. We hope the reports are indeed bloated and we have nothing to fear, that this situation is just normal during the summer months and there is no water crisis. We see, read and hear differently, however, if Piñol does not. Or maybe he is playing the ostrich game – just bury your head beneath the sand until the storm passes over.

On the other hand, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist reported that as of last week, the damage to crops in the province has already reached over P60 million affecting over 400 hectares in Binalbagan and Murcia alone. Including the other municipalities, the adversely affected lands totaled 1,268 hectares. The monetary value estimate has not been reported yet. There are still towns not included in this report. The total damage can therefore reach beyond P100 million. And summer has just started.

There is also a small item in the OPA report last week. Rats have raided several farms. This is an indication that their usual source of food in the mountains are declining and they are spreading out to forage in the lowlands. Wait until monkeys are reported also going to the lowlands. Then we’ll know that the forests, despite their capacity to hold ground water are starting to dry up. This has ramifications on the source of our potable water systems.

Are the reports of several provinces exaggerated as Piñol insinuates? We can’t say but perhaps the situation is still manageable because, at least Occidental Negros has not declared a state of calamity. Maybe we are already in a critical stage, but everybody is busy with the elections. We wait but by now we know what it is this early and it can grow worse.