Friday, March 05, 2010

Mindanao crops damaged by El Nino

A vegetable farmer Loloy Abalan tills his dried land Friday, March 5, 2010 in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines which is experiencing widespread blackout brought about by low water levels in hydro power plants in the region due to the El Nino phenomenon. Abalan says the long dry spell is forcing many farmers to abandon their lands and look for an alternative source of livelihood. President Gloria Arroyo has declared a power crisis in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 5, 2010) – Some P300 million worth of crops had been damaged by the El Nino phenomenon in western Mindanao on top of the power crisis in the Zamboanga region.

The Department of Agriculture said some 3,000 hectares of farm lands were affected by the long dry spell. Worst hit by the El Nino are the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte.

The three provinces are known rice and corn producers in Mindanao and water from irrigation system are not enough to supply the farms. And reservoirs are fast drying up and so were artesian wells where farmers get water for their lands.

In Zamboanga City, agriculture officials said they are planning to resort to cloud seeding to induce rains in areas where farm lands are drying up. Even vegetable farmers are complaining about the dry spell.

“We are having difficulty now. My vegetable farm is fast drying and even our artesian well is drying up now. We don’t know what to do and I just pray that there will be rains in the coming days,” said Loloy Abala, a farmer.

Zamboanga is also experiencing as much as 6 hours of blackout the past weeks because of low water levels in hydro power plants in Mindanao supplying electricity to many areas in the region.

The local electric cooperative said there is a plan to put up a coal-fired power plant to augment the increasing power requirement in Zamboanga City.

Betty Marquez, a spokeswoman for the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative, said there are proposals to put up a fossil-fuel power station here because of the increased demand for electricity.

Coal-fired units produce electricity by burning coal in a boiler to heat water to produce steam. The steam, at tremendous pressure, flows into a turbine, which spins a generator to produce electricity. The steam is cooled, condensed back into water, and returned to the boiler to start the process over. But environmentalists say the coal-fueled plants will pollute the air and contribute to global warming.

There are at least 9 coal-fired power plants in the country – six in Luzon Island, two in the Visayas in central Philippines and one in Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

Marquez said the daily power consumption of Zamboanga City is about 78 megawatts and at present the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines has been supplying only half of the total requirements of the local electric cooperative because of the El Nino weather phenomenon which is affecting the whole country.

“The El Nino is really affecting us all, not only the local electric cooperative, but many power providers, and even the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines which is supplying at least eight others electric cooperatives in Mindanao,” Marquez said.

El Nino is associated with floods, droughts and other weather disturbances in many regions of the world, which vary with each event. The Philippines like any other developing countries dependent upon agriculture and fishing, particularly those bordering the Pacific Ocean, are the most affected.

Marquez said the low water level at Lake Lanao is also aggravating the supply of electricity in Mindanao because it affects the hydropower plant in Iligan City.

“Right now, all we can say to everybody is to conserve electricity and wait for the rains to come,” she said, adding, the dry spell is expected to last until June.

Of Zamboanga City’s 98 villages, at least 90 percent have rotational blackout lasting from one hour to as long as six hours every day from the previous two hours.

Marquez said the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines which supplies electricity simply cannot cope up with the power demands.

President Gloria Arroyo on Thursday declared a power crisis in Mindanao.(Mindanao Examiner)

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