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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, January 23, 2016
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Cost of complacency

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Information from the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist reveals that 21 irrigation systems in Negros Occidental are already in critical condition, with five of those having already lost water sources due to the long dry spell. These 21 irrigation systems that were built by the provincial government with counterpart funds from the Department of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Authority cover 1,300 hectares of farmlands and affect more than 1,000 farmers.

We are in the midst of a strong El Niño that the PAGASA has been warning everyone about, irrigation systems are already in critical condition, and yet our local agriculture officials are still worrying about the procurement of equipment and submitting proposals to help mitigate the impact of the ongoing dry spell.

There is the allocation of about P4 million for water pumps that started in 2014 and has already been approved, but is still stuck in the procurement stage so it currently remains a pipe dream for the farmers who needed it yesterday. Another laudable idea is the provincial government's proposal to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the establishment of watersheds to protect the water sources of irrigation systems in various parts of the province that will cost P121 million. Unfortunately for our farmers, the dry spell is already on high gear and such a laudable proposal is now too late to protect the water sources that are already in critical condition.

Given that the drought warnings have been raised since last year, have the measures that were deployed to mitigate the adverse effects of the expected dry spell failed, or have we, as usual, acted only when it is too late once again?

An island that is dependent on agriculture cannot rely on cloud seeding as the only solution to every dry spell. Expediting the procurement of the badly needed water pumps could also help, but there is so much more in terms of infrastructure and programs that could've been done to make our farms and communities more drought resistant. The climate is changing and we should've been better prepared but it seems that this particularly strong El Niño could be a very strong reminder of the cost of complacency.

It is entirely possible that our government officials have truly done all they could to counter the effects of an extended dry spell but these reports of undelivered water pumps and sensible solutions that unfortunately remain in the proposal stage in the midst of a serious dry spell give us reason to doubt their sense of urgency as far as this unfolding crisis is concerned.

At this stage we can only hope and pray that the effects of the El Niño won't be devastating and that the government officials concerned will finally learn their lesson as far as preparations for extreme dry spells are concerned so this does not happen again.*


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