The damage to agriculture due to the dry spell induced by the El Niño has reached P1.31 billion mark, according to the Task Force El Niño.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) said it was considering reducing the water pressure of concessionaires in Metro Manila due to the continuous decline of water levels in Angat Dam.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has also made the same observation, saying El Niño has caused at least P1.31 billion worth of agricultural damage as of mid-March

Task force spokesman Joey Villarama said the country was still experiencing “strong and mature” El Niño.

Villarama pointed out, however, that this year’s damage caused by the drought was less than previous figures.

“We are anticipating that we have seen the worst, and that the damagewould not be any bigger,” Villarama said.

At least five municipalities have declared a state of emergency amid the intense heat, and about 60-70 provinces would be affected by the El Niño up to April.

Villarama also noted that while the Philippine Atmospheric andGeophysical Services Administration (PAGASA) has declared that the weather phenomenon has weakened, the peak is yet to come.

He explained that although there was a perceived shift to La Niña, the rains would come in.

“It’s still the same, the rainfall was still below normal,” he said.

“For Metro Manila, we are monitoring the supply of water and electricity. For the whole country, we are concerned with health-related issues,” the task force official said.

He added that the Department of Health was particularly interested on the outbreak of diarrhea in Paluan, Occidental Mindoro.

MWSS spokesperson Patrick Dizon said they have discussed the option with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) in a bid to ease the water consumption of consumers and, at the same time, maintain the water level in Angat Dam.

Dizon clarified however, that there was yet to be a final decision on the matter.

“What we want to avoid is the drastic decline of our reservoir due to the consumption of our customers. Right now, we are looking at how we can maintain the daily decrease of our reservoir,” Dizon said.

As of 6 a.m. on Sunday, PAGASA said the reservoir water level in Angat Dam decreased to 201.70 meters from 201.93 meters on Saturday. Angat Dam has a normal high-water level of 212.00 meters.

“The minimum operating level of Angat Dam is 180 meters. So when the Angat Dam is below 180 meters, the supply to our irrigation will be minimal. Remember, Angat Dam is a multi-purpose dam so it gives domestic water supply for Metro Manila and irrigation in Bulacan,” Dizon said.

Should there be a water interruption, Dizon said the MWSS talked with west zone concessionaire Maynilad Water Services Inc. (Maynilad) and east zone concessionaire Manila Water Company Inc. to have it concentrated between 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Majority of the damage as of March 12 affected about 14,142 hectares of palay plantation, DA spokesperson Arnel De Mesa said in a briefing.

Areas primarily affected included Western Visayas, Zamboanga, and Ilocos, or those in the western side of the archipelago, he said.

However, the official assured the public that this was still smaller compared to the damage incurred during the El Niño that hit the country in 1997 and 1998.

“This is smaller or about 1.5 percent of the total area with palay crops.”

“If we compare this to the El Niño in 1997 and 1998, the total area devastated by El Niño, one of the strongest, was about 372,000 hectares and during this time, we were in the harvest period, March, April, May. Hopefully it won’t be that high,” he added.

The DA said it prepared water management interventions, including solar irrigation and the promotion of alternate wetting and drying strategy for palay.

“This strategy helped a lot in conservation of water without sacrificing yung ating (our) projected yield,” he said.

The government had also advocated for the use of hybrid palay varieties, he said. With Rio Araja