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Philippine Government Vows Direct Aid, Monitoring 273 Areas Hit By El Niño Drought

273 Areas Hit By El Niño Drought 2000

MANILA — The Philippine government on Thursday underscored the urgent need for direct financial assistance and continuous monitoring of farmers and fishers severely affected by the intensifying El Niño phenomenon that has triggered droughts in many parts of the country.

Joey Villarama, spokesperson for the government’s Task Force El Niño, said about 273 cities and municipalities nationwide have already declared a state of calamity due to excessive heat, including areas in the Muslim autonomous region. The figures highlight the crippling impacts of one of the strongest El Niño episodes to strike the archipelago in recent years.

“The administration’s focus is to determine the needs of our farmers, fishers and their families. They are not just figures — there are those in real need of help,” Villarama told PTV’s “Rise and Shine” program. He said the Department of Agriculture has been working closely with local governments to validate damage and identify those most affected.

To provide immediate relief, the government has started distributing cash aid from the Office of the President alongside rehabilitation efforts by agriculture authorities in drought-stricken farmlands and aquaculture areas, Villarama said.

As of late April, the Department of Agriculture had provided 2.18 billion pesos (about $38 million) worth of assistance, including 1.06 billion pesos ($18.5 million) for a financial aid program for rice farmers. Other interventions included small irrigation projects, subsidized loans, insurance indemnities, composting facilities and alternative livelihood support.

Despite the government response, Villarama urged the public to conserve water amid the relentless dry spell. The Angat Dam, a key catchment for Metro Manila, has dropped to just over 4 meters (13 feet) above its minimum operating level.

“The coming weeks of May are critical in terms of water management and conservation,” he said, adding that food and energy must also be saved with a potential La Niña looming that could bring heavy rains and flooding later in the year.

The El Niño and La Niña patterns are opposites of the same climate cycle arising from variations in ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.