GMA-7 report calls attention to El Niño’s impact in Mindanao

CHEERS TO GMA Integrated News Weather Center for a report that checked on the situation of Mindanao agriculture, providing information that identified it as the region that will bear the brunt of El Niño. But it went on to stress the urgency of El Niño as a national issue. The story is part of the network’s “Banta ng Nagbabagong Klima” series, which spotlights climate stories.

What’s the Story?

Maureen Schrijvers recalled the impact of the El Niño phenomenon in the past three decades on Mindanao. 

She led the report with data from 2019, presenting figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s (NDRRMC) on the damage in the agricultural sector then; the accumulated loss of PHP7.9 billion at that time and the declaration of “state of calamity” for local government units. 

She moved further back into the nineties, referring to areas in Mindanao most affected by the strongest El Niño of the 20th century in 1997-1998. NDRRMC’s data showed that the Zamboanga peninsula alone incurred around PHP311 million in agricultural damage.

Ana Liza Solis, climate monitoring and prediction section chief of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), told Schrivjers in an interview that Mindanao will be most affected by this year’s El Niño due to its lower average rainfall levels in comparison with other parts of the country. Solis added that the current El Niño is expected to linger in the Philippines, potentially going into the first quarter of 2024.

What the Story Got Right?

Schrivjers combined research and interviews to present a comprehensive view of the issue. She talked to concerned officials who had authority to speak on the matter. But the presentation gained immediacy with her reports from the ground to check the actual situation.

Schrivjers helped ordinary viewers to understand the phenomenon, using an analogy understandable for the ordinary viewer: “Isipin niyo na parang nagka-lagnat ‘yung Dagat Pasipiko at ‘yung pag-init na ‘yun nag-uuwi ng extreme weather patterns na nagdadala ng either tagtuyot o malalakas na pag-ulan. (Imagine that the Pacific Ocean has a fever and its heat creates extreme weather patterns that result in either drought or heavy rains.)

She featured a case study, interviewing Julius Landiang, a small rice farmer in Zamboanga Sibugay, who lost nearly all of his capital of PHP15,000 in 2019. He was forced to plant mung beans instead in his parched fields. While he returned to planting rice, the intense heat this year delayed the planting to July. The report showed his farmland beginning to dry up again, telling more than words the damage already happening in Mindanao. 

The report also included Solis’ explanation that the climate crisis has shortened the cycle of “strong” episodes of El Niño. Severe El Niño phenomena usually occur every 10 to 15 years. Citing Pagasa’s record, Schrivjers noted that the 1997 to 1998 “strong” El Niño was followed 11 years later, in 2009 and 2010. After that, the next “strong” El Niño occurred in 2015 and 2016, showing a shorter gap of five years. 

Robert Borje, executive director of the Climate Change Commission, told Schrivjers in an interview that as El Niño becomes more severe, the soil moisture levels of agricultural land will continue to decrease, leading to a gradual loss of arable land.

Why Is this Important?

Schrijvers ended her report with a cautionary note: It is possible that in the near future, the entire nation and not just Mindanao, the entire population, not just farmers will suffer the effects of El Niño that is aggravated by climate change.

Media must continue providing accurate, timely and comprehensive reports on the recurring phenomenon in the context of larger climate change to raise public awareness. An informed public will compel government agencies to align their projects with the needs of farmers, making it possible for the entire nation to overcome crisis. 

The report cited assurances from agricultural officials in Zamboanga that they have started exploring drought-resistant crops and seeding clouds, their level of preparedness at “75 to 80 percent.” Media should follow up and ask if these are adequate interventions and whether these are applicable to other parts of the country.

Newsrooms must also check whether the mitigating measures laid out in the National Climate Change Action Plan, which Borje mentioned in the report, is actually being enforced.

Faced with the challenge, the entire nation must be involved, media included.