El Niño Drives Drought in the Philippines

A strong El Niño event is in place in the tropical Pacific. IRI’s seasonal forecast for the October-December 2015 period, based on the most recent sea surface temperature projections, predicts a strong likelihood of below-average precipitation for regions in the western equatorial Pacific, including much of the Philippines. The strong likelihood of reduced rainfall during an El Niño event increases the risk of drought in the Philippines. The most severe droughts the country experienced over the last several decades occurred during the strong El Niño events of 1982/83, 1986/87 and 1997/98.

“By the end of February more than 80% of our provinces [are expected to] experience drought conditions,” – Anthony Lucero, PAGASA

Past droughts have spared no part of the Philippine economy. Agriculture, fisheries, water supplies, power generation, public health and natural resources took significant hits. For example, during the 1997/98 El Niño, 70% of the country experienced severe drought. Water levels in the Angat reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Metro Manila as well as water for irrigation and power generation, became critically low, averaging 32% of normal levels during critical months. As a result, authorities instituted water rationing in Metro Manila and cut off irrigation water to 27,000 hectares of agricultural lands. Agricultural and fisheries productivity subsequently dropped by 6.6%.

In response to the 1986/87 drought, the Philippines developed a drought monitoring and early warning system and established several inter-agency committees to assess climate risk and implement climate risk management programs. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) now issues El Niño advisories, which include both the current forecast and province-based assessments of dry and drought conditions.

IRI is currently partnering with PAGASA, the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and the Philippines Department of Agriculture on the Bicol Agri-Water Project. The work is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The project seeks to improve water security and enhance agricultural development under climate variability and change.

In the video below, Anthony Lucero, a senior weather specialist with PAGASA, discusses some of the anticipated impacts of the current El Niño event on the Philippines via a Skype interview.

In the past, IRI has collaborated with PAGASA, USAID and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on a project to identify climate risk management strategies for the Angat reservoir.

IRI also worked with PAGASA and the Philippine National Water Resources Board to develop a reservoir model to generate probabilistic forecasts of Angat reservoir inflows. Using seasonal climate forecasts, the model facilitates early warning of high- and low-flow periods while allowing water managers to make changes in water allocations ahead of anticipated drought conditions.

Tiff van Huysen is a graduate student in the M.A. Program in Climate & Society and a communications intern at IRI.