GMA wants P500m released for drought

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has asked lawmakers to authorize the release of P500 million from the proposed 2008 National Budget to repair irrigation systems and dikes as a way of conserving water during a lingering dry spell.

Mrs. Arroyo also ordered the National Economic and Development Authority and the departments of energy and environment to work with Congress and the private sector to draft a national strategy to conserve resources.

“The water and power shortages due to the dry spell deliver a wake-up call for our generation to urgently embark upon a determined, well-planned, and well-funded wide-ranging strategic initiative to conserve resources even as we strive for development,” she said during the Legislative- Executive Development Advisory Council meeting at the Palace yesterday.

The President said the national strategy would include reducing the use of water and energy “per unit farm, factory and other economic output.”

“This is the direction the whole world will eventually have to go. It is our competitive advantage to race ahead in this inevitable imperative to maximize the growth we generate for every drop of water and spark of energy we use,” she said.

“We count on all sectors, starting with our congressional leaders, to work together toward this goal of resource-efficient and environmentally sound development,” the President added.

After the meeting, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the President wanted the advance release of at least P500 million from the proposed 2008 budget to support projects that would reduce the damage from the dry spell.

“We leave it to the Department of Budget to do the nitty-gritty in having the money released in advance. It will be used for infrastructure projects that are very much needed now, such as the repair of canals and irrigation systems,” Yap said.

He said the funds would be used for the areas critically hit by the dry spell including the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, and the Cordillera Autonomous Region, all in Luzon.

“If the dry spell continues, we can expect at least 200,000 to 400,000 metric tons of rice will be affected,” he said.

Luzon accounts for 40 percent of the country’s rice production and 30 to 40 percent of its corn output.

In the Ilocos region alone, 30 to 40 percent of all rain-fed agricultural land have not been planted because of the dry spell.

Tropical storm Chedeng strengthened yesterday, prompting the weather bureau to raise signal no. 1 over the Batanes group of islands and the Babuyan Islands.

The weather bureau said the storm would bring more rain to most parts of northern and southern Luzon as well as the entire Bicol region.

Despite the heavy rains, the water level in Angat Dam rose only slightly—not enough to offset a water shortage that has also reduced its production of hydroelectric power.

A National Power Corp. spokesman said the slight increase was encouraging, but urged the public to continue conserving water and power.

Water at the dam rose from 170.70 mm to 170.90 mm—still 40 mm short of its optimum level.