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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cooling off the heated up El Niño
By Rene V. Carbayas

ISABELA CITY, Basilan, Jan 14 (PIA) – Public apathy and people’s continued ignorance and wastage of water could heat up the impact of El Niño in Isabela City in Basilan. With El Niño’s wrath becoming more and more evident recently, the urgency for both public and government to act is imperative.

The water districts of Isabela City in Basilan and the neighboring city of Zamboanga have already started water rationing system to mitigate the impact of the dry spell and to manage the available water resources, as well as maximize its span until enough rain would replenish them. Not until the rain comes, the brunt of El Niño will be felt by the communities.

The DXNO-FM radio station here has been receiving a lot of calls and texts recently complaining over the local water district’s water rationing system. This, in spite of the continued information and dissemination efforts made to update the public on the impending water rationing system due to the dry spell as early as December 20, 2015.

The outrage of some of the callers/texters, fueled even by local radio anchor is an indication of the locals’ ignorance and apathy to the impending situation that the island province is facing.

Earlier in November and December last year, the USAID Be Secure Project has gathered stakeholders from government, water district, and non-government organizations to be oriented and updated on El Niño and climate outlook for 2016 and beyond. Experts said that the El Niño in the tropical Pacific may intensify from moderate to strong and will last until the first quarter of 2016. Some areas will be experiencing less and less rains.

El Niño heats up

Based on the recent El Niño Advisory No. 10 issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) as of December 6, 2015, the province of Basilan will likely be affected by dry spell from December 2015 to January 2016 and drought from February to March 2016.

PAGASA’s rainfall forecast as of December 6, 2015 reveals that for January to March 2016 will be below normal, which means dry conditions will likely affect most parts of the country from December 2015 to May 2016.

PAGASA said dry spell means that three consecutive months of below normal (21%-60% reduction from average) rainfall conditions; or two consecutive months of way below normal (more that 60% reduction from average) rainfall conditions.

Drought, on the other hand, means three consecutive months of way below normal (>60% reduction from average) or five consecutive months of below normal (21%-60% reduction from average) rainfall condition.

With this forecast, PAGASA advised those areas affected to use water wisely. The Isabela City Water District (ISAWAD) had also appealed to its concessionaires to help conserve and reuse water.

Water use efficiency

Be Secure Project have suggested some steps for water demand management both for the water district and the local government unit. The first step is to focus on institutional efficiencies by large consumers by reducing leakage inside largest consumers and also in all government-owned facilities such as hospitals, health clinics, schools, government offices, and academe.

The second step involves encouraging voluntary retrofit by large consumers and developing partnerships to train frontline workers to do simple household water audits. Simplified water audits involves measure or estimate liter per minute (LPM) of leaks, measure LPM and liter per minute flow (LPF) of sanitary fixtures, determine water usage of appliances, determine best repairs and replacements or retrofits, and multiple savings by frequency of use.

To encourage voluntary retrofit, the water district could offer to train a cadre of sanitary engineers and free water audits of large consumers with practical advice on efficiency. In all public places, encourage automatic faucets, low flush toilets (malls, airports, waiting rooms of water district and utilities). Encourage low-flow faucets and showerheads in hotels, hospitals; encourage recycling by large consumers of all water used where possible. Discourage car washing with companies that own fleets of vehicles, with regular hose unless hose has pressurized nozzle. And encourage gray water re-use for all landscaping.

At this step, the LGU could begin to draft revision to ordinances e.g. construction codes to encourage installation of low flush, low consumption fixtures, roof harvesting of rainwater, reservoirs in large developments to capture rainwater. For urban beautification (islands in streets, parks), encourage gray water re-use in ordinances and pavers on parking lots and sidewalks, and landscaping where possible; encourage and support efforts of water districts to get sanitation systems in place and re-capture gray water.

In developing partnerships, Be Secure encouraged both the water district and the LGU to develop promotional materials and encourage innovative ways to spread the message on-line, through cell phones and local cable, etc. It also challenged the LGU to form promotional task force and educate media and use them as partners.

Step three involves encouraging voluntary retrofit with homeowners campaigns by water district to send materials to each home with meter readers that describes the support the water demand management can give to homeowners wishing to retrofit. At this step, the LGU could also tap media to encourage conservation behavior during drought and promote public awareness regularly of the state of water reserves of the locality.

Step four can start the regulatory process to make mandatory basic demand management schemes by water district to begin necessary capital investment to establish sewage and septage in all large cities; recapture, treat and reuse water from septage and sewerage schemes. The LGU, meanwhile, can begin necessary capital investment to capture/re-capture rain water. Local ordinance should require mandatory roof harvesting of rainwater, pavers on all public car lots to allow for soil penetration and avert floods. The LGU can also develop small water impounding dams to capture rain and reduce run-off by 30 percent within five years.

These are some of the steps, huge steps perhaps, that could prepare for the worst even beyond the El Niño phenomenon. The Be Secure Project also supported ISAWAD in its establishment of a citywide septage management program for Isabela City where some 47,000 people could benefit, in spite of some opposition. Recently, ISAWAD also attached IEC materials in the bills of concessionaires.

People’s apathy stems from the lack of awareness on how the situation could greatly affect persons and societies. It is a cultural and behavioral problem. People do not usually act until the problem is right in front of them. The local church initiated prayers for rain and played occasionally at local radio station. But God helps men who help themselves.