(Palawan News file photo)

Seventeen provinces, including Palawan, are expected to take a hit from the El Niño phenomenon, according to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

The affected provinces include Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, Pampanga, Tarlac, Batangas, Cavite, Oriental Mindoro, and Palawan.

PAGASA also forecasted a potential for dry conditions in the Spratly Islands and a dry spell in Abra, Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Quirino, Bataan, Bulacan, Zambales, Aurora, Occidental Mindoro, and Metro Manila.

El Niño, a climatic phenomenon characterized by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific with the potential for drought conditions, poses a threat to water resources and agricultural activities.

This climatic event is part of the larger El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which influences weather patterns globally.

Pagasa also explained that a dry spell occurs when there are two consecutive months with a 21 to 60 percent reduction in average rainfall.

Drought conditions, on the other hand, are defined as five consecutive months with below-normal rainfall or three consecutive months with more than a 60 percent decrease from the usual.

In anticipation of the potential impact of the looming El Niño, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has issued directives to various government agencies, emphasizing the need for “proactive and science-based long-term solutions,” including a public awareness campaign focusing on water and energy conservation.

The Department of Agriculture is actively engaged in mapping out areas susceptible to negative effects from the impending dry spell.

Department of Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. has drawn parallels between the current El Niño situation and the devastating 1997-1998 event, the most severe experienced by the Philippines, resulting in significant agricultural damage amounting to billions of pesos.

Addressing the media during a Malacañang press briefing, Secretary Solidum expressed concerns about the likelihood of moderate to severe drought conditions persisting from February to May 2024.

“Now, based on recent conditions, moderate to severe drought conditions are likely from February to May 2024. And by the end of May, there would be 77 percent of the provinces of the country that would have potential for drought—that would be around 65 provinces—and seven percent potential for dry spells, or around six provinces,” Solidum said.

“And because of this, we need to further intensify our efforts to make sure that we are ready for this, especially in the various fields that were already mentioned, like health, water, agriculture, sanitation, and, of course, peace and order, and we also need to involve everyone in this effort,” he added.

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