Media Releases

BARMM braces for El Niño season

May 5, 2023

Groups call for urgent needs including medicine, food, water, and support to livelihood as communities prepare for the anticipated impacts of El Niño. L-R: Amerah A. Matuan, Nurse IV, DRRM Division, Ministry of Health; Anwarudin A. Aplal, farmer representative, Barangay Bagoinged, Pikit, North Cotabato; Mohamed K. Dilambasen, fisherfolk representative, Barangay Barungis; Director Hasim Guiamil, Chief Division Head, DRRM Division, MSSD; Norhassim G. Sinarimbo, Executive Assistant, BARMM-READi; and Baharen A. Piang, Acc. 1, OIC Chief, MAFAR. (Photo: Remil Diez/Oxfam Pilipinas)

Groups organized a forum in Cotabato City on Wednesday to support the readiness of BARMM government and communities to prepare for the incoming El Niño and the potential extreme weather events – much stronger typhoon and flooding after the dry spell.

The forum aimed to discuss the impacts of El Niño and the possible anticipatory actions that can be done by the Ministry and at household level.  

Organized by the ECHO-funded project, SUPREME BARMM*, a consortium led by Oxfam Pilipinas, the event brought together BARMM heads of Ministries, local government representatives, and community stakeholders, to discuss the impacts of the El Niño to different sectors, particularly farmers, fishers, and most vulnerable households.

In the forum, the regional government of BARMM and community stakeholders expressed a unified concern over the looming El Niño from June to August this year up to mid-2024. This, after PAGASA hoisted the El Niño Alert warning on May 2, 2023 across the country. 

Manila Observatory (MO), a consortium member, introduced the participants to the basic science of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Meteorologist Francia Avila of the Manila Observatory, a member of the SUPREME-BARMM Project, explained the concept of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), citing how the warming of the Sea Surface Temperature in the mid-pacific, and the weak Easterly winds, create high pressure area in the Western Pacific where the Philippines is located, causing less than normal rainfall. During the forum, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Weather Specialist Dayzyree Balan-Flores underscored the probability of El Niño occurring in the country which spiked from 40% in April to 80% in May.

In fact, above normal temperatures were observed in the March-April-May season, particularly in the provinces of Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga del Sur.  Balan-Flores also presented a map where Mindanao, particularly the mainland BARMM area, had consistently been affected during the past El Niño episodes. 

Farmer Anwarudin Aplal from Barangay Bangoiged in Special Geographic Area (SGA) Pikit Cluster recalled how his family suffered from impacts of the dry spell as he shared their lived experiences during the 2015-2016 El Niño occurrence.

“As a farmer, I’ve faced so many challenges. We experienced flooding even when there is no rainfall, when pests attacked our crops, and one of my children got sick because of intense heat. That is why we decided to move to Ligwasan Marsh so we can plant corn instead” (Bilang isang magsasaka,maraming beses na rin sinubok ang aking katatagan. Naranasan namin ang pagbaha kahit walang ulan, pag-atake ng mga peste sa aming pananim, at nagkasakit pa ang ang aking mga anak dahil sa matinding init sa panahong iyong. Kaya lumipat kami sa Ligwasan Marsh upang duon magtanim ng mais), recounted Aplal.

Aplal called upon the ministries present to act upon the alarm raised by PAGASA and the MO to effectively prepare and mitigate the effects of the drought that his community and family may experience soon.

Fisher Mohamed Dilambasen from Barangay Barungis in Pikit-Cluster narrated how the 2015-2016 El Niño drove his family to migrate and how they went deep into debt. A father of 8 children, his family relied on the small lake for fishing.

“When the water level in the river dropped, and eventually the lake in our area dried up, there was no more fish to catch. My family and I have nothing to cook and eat. It hurts to see that my children go to school without food. They were also prone to diseases, and I had no money to buy medicine. That is why we moved to a different location, and I resorted to borrowing money from neighbors and relatives for supplies” (Noong bumaba ang level ng tubig sa ilog, at kalaunan ay natuyo ang lawa sa lugar namin, wala na kaming makuhang isda. Wala kaming maluto at makain ng pamilya ko. Masakit na makita na an aking mga anak ay pumapasok sa eskwela na walang dalang pagkain. Nagkakasakit din sila, at wala akong pambili ng gamot. Kaya lumipat kami sa ibang lugar, at nangutang sa kapit-bahay at mga kamag-anak para may pangtustus), Dilambasen lamented.    

Dilambasen called for alternative livelihoods to be rolled out soon in their community. In response, the ministries present assured that the farmers and fisherfolks concerns will be considered.

Representing BARMM Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READi), Executive Officer Norhashim Sinarimbo announced that their Pre-Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA) Team will be mobilized on May 4 to tackle the coming climate disturbance. 

“I am thankful to SUPREME BARMM project for convening this forum. I brought with me our PDRA team to familiarize the science of El Niño. Currently, communicating this to our people is a challenge. We’ve just experienced La Niña up to October last year which flooded Cotabato City four times, affected around 50,000 households, and claimed 63 lives. Now that El Niño is about to set in, people are wondering why we still experience intense rains”, Sinarimbo expressed.

He also informed them that the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government will carefully study the phenomenon and the local situation to be able to formulate immediate action plans for the Regional DRRM Council’s approval.

Sinarimbo underscored the relevance of anticipatory actions thru the ECHO-funded project, as they still have adequate time to prepare for the slow-onset hydrometeorological hazard.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR) echoed the concerns of farmer and fisherfolk present and encouraged them to enlist in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBA) for asset protection through the Philippine Crops Insurance Corporation (PCIC).

They also pledged to increase availability of seedlings so farmers can recover quickly. 

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has assured the public that they are stockpiling essential supplies like medicines and to respond to health concerns in remote areas such as the SGA. 

Expressing support to the preparations, Shem Guiamil, Division Chief of the MSSD-DRRM Division emphasized that their programs are in place. These include Emergency Release Assistance Program, Paghahanda at Pagbabalik Program, Ligtas Pamilya Program, and Cash-for-Work program.

Bong Masagca, Executive Director of the People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDRRN) noted that responding to El Niño will require a whole-of-nation effort. He called on duty bearers to craft policies integrating  the El Niño action plans in contingency plans and broader development plans. 

“The bottom line is we need to prepare and take action. This is a collaborative effort of different groups, including the community. The anticipatory actions should contribute to the long-term recovery of the most vulnerable communities,” Masagca said.

Oxfam Pilipinas, together with the consortium of international and national organizations, science and academic institutions, and the private sector, promotes anticipatory actions enabling early action and delivery of preemptive assistance prior to onset of disasters so that hazard prone communities and local goverments are better able to cope with disaster impacts.

“Anticipatory action does not only ease the stress of the family in times of emergency. It also supports the family’s necessities in a dignified manner even before a disaster strikes. We hope that through this forum, we can work together in mitigating the impacts of El Nino through anticipatory action,” Oxfam Pilipinas Executive Director Erika Geronimo said.  

*Strengthening Resilience through Early Warning System, Enhanced Anticipatory Actions and Multi-risk Landscape Approach in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao


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Ma. Paz “Pats” Oliva 
Senior Officer for Media and Digital Influencing