MANILA, AUGUST 1, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo ordered yesterday the release of P3.664 billion from different government agencies to fund drought-mitigating measures for agriculture in Luzon, which has been experiencing a dry spell since the supposed start of the rainy season last June.

Mrs. Arroyo herself experienced a blackout during the launching yesterday of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Language Institute in Taguig City.

Meanwhile, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo issued the order during the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) special meeting at Malacañang.

He said it would be too early to tell whether the dry spell would affect the government’s growth projections for the year as it is uncertain whether the drought would be prolonged.

The government has set a Gross Domestic Product target of 6.1 to 6.7 percent this year. The agriculture sector accounts for about a fifth of GDP.

He said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) has yet to make an official announcement that the country is experiencing a drought.

Andaya said the funding will come from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Irrigation Authority (NIA).

He said P3 billion from NIA will be used to rush repairs and rehabilitation of irrigation systems. The scheme, he said, includes employing farm workers or farmers out of work due to the dry spell to augment their income.

The DA will contribute P664 million, of which P264 million will go to Regions 1 to 3 while P250 million was realigned for Regions 4A and 5.

The amount will be used for cloud seeding, provision of certified seeds including hybrid corn, construction of shallow tube wells and distribution of vegetable seeds, he said.

Another P150 million will be used to protect livestock. He said farm animals and livestock are prone to diseases during hot and dry spells.

He said the DA has already designated some 65,000 hectares in the Visayas and Mindanao where rice will be planted to compensate for the losses in Luzon. This is where part of the funding will be used.

He said the government is also ready to release additional funds for possible contingencies arising from the power outages as a result of the lack of water in hydroelectric dams.

Meanwhile, weather bureau officials are hoping for more typhoons to hit the country to ease a lengthening dry spell that has caused power outages and threatens agricultural production.

Nathaniel Cruz, chief weather forecaster of Pagasa, said rain induced by the strong winds could ease the “drier than usual” conditions in Luzon.

Scant rain has caused water levels at Luzon dams to fall below normal, affecting power generation and causing three-hour power outages last week.

“We need tropical cyclones,” Cruz said over ABS-CBN television.

The weather bureau expects between two and three typhoons to hit the country in August and “let’s hope that these winds will (bring rain),” he said. “We need the rainfall.”

The bureau said that June and July rainfall patterns in much of Luzon, including Metro Manila, were below normal and this has led to dry spell conditions.

It said this has been “felt in the various sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, health and energy.”

If these conditions persist in the coming months it may develop into a drought.

President Arroyo asked the public to save water and ordered all agencies to prepare for a drought if rains do not come by August.

The government has allocated P1.7 million for cloud-seeding operations over Angat Dam to induce rains and fill up the dam.

Butch Tejada of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) said 50 hours of cloud-seeding is the easiest way to make rain to benefit farmers and fisherfolk.

In a briefing by officials of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) at the Plaridel airfield in Plaridel, Bulacan, yesterday, Tejada said that the rain-making airplanes will conduct 46 sorties.

He said that in each sortie, some 500 kilos of vacuum dried salt are sprayed over thick cloud formations to induce rains.

Tejada said that two Air Force planes are conducting cloud-seeding operations in Central Luzon, the Ilocos region, the Cordillera Autonomous Region and Cagayan Valley.

The rain-making crew use the Plaridel airfield as their base of operations for sorties that concentrate in the area over the Angat Dam watershed.

He said that it takes 20 minutes for the aircraft to reach the target area before it sprays vacuum dried salt into the air for about 30 minutes. “It is very efficient,” Tejada said.

Dennis Gana of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) said aside from the effort to fill up the dam, the cloud-seeding operations will also lessen the heat caused by the dry spell that also increases the consumption of electricity in the affected areas, including Metro Manila.

Gana explained that a drop in the temperature by one degree Celsius would mean an estimated reduction of 100 megawatts (MW) on power consumption that is equivalent to savings of P15 million per hour.

He said that the hydroelectric power plants of Napocor generate 30 percent of the 6,900 MW capacity of the Luzon grid.

Gana said the dry spell had hampered operations of the hydroelectric power plants in Luzon and the plants are now generating only five to six percent of normal operations.

“We really have to reduce water and power consumption,” he said.

George Estioko, water resources development office chief of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), said water allocation to Metro Manila’s potable water requirement was reduced to 41 cubic meters per second from 44 cms, while irrigation was reduced from 32 cms to 25 cms.

He said that water elevation at the Angat Dam remains a little above 172 meters or eight meters below the Napocor’s 180-meter minimum operating level.

When asked by The STAR how long the 172 meters of water at Angat Dam would last if allocated solely for Metro Manila’s water requirement, Estioko said it might only last until Sept. 30.

“That’s a remote possibility, because the Pagasa forecast expects a La Niña by September,” he clarified. La Niña is a weather phenomenon characterized by more than normal rainfall.

Local farmers are divided on whether they will shift to vegetables and other short-term crops that can be harvested in three months.

Simeon Sioson, a farmer leader from San Miguel, Bulacan, said that some farmers are trying to pump water from underground but it would be costly in the long run due to high cost of diesel and gasoline used to power the pumps.

Meanwhile, Edmund Quinit, Region I rice coordinator of the Department of Agriculture, said that the affected ricelands in the Ilocos provinces could reach 86,000 hectares.

The worst-hit province is Pangasinan with 47,000 hectares, La Union with 26,000 hectares, Ilocos Sur with 11,454 hectares and Ilocos Norte with 1,060 hectares.

Blessie Conception of the Bureau of Soil and Water said the Air Force started cloud-seeding operations over Ilocos three days ago and the rain-making efforts will continue until the end of August. – Dino Balabo, Vic Alhambra, Eva Visperas, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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