Friday, May 23, 2008

Early typhoon season

The past few years have seen delayed onset of rains in the Philippines, and perhaps other tropical countries. About a decade or more ago, regular rainy season starts in the month of June. The previous years due to climate change, the rains would come in June. Last year, the regular rainy period started in August.

This year is different. The rains came as early as the last week of April. Until this week, we have had 4 straight weeks of either cloudy or rainy afternoons and evening. There were some sunny days but they were few. And so far, 4 typhoons have come. The first typhoon was in late April and it flooded many provinces in the southern part of the country. The third typhoon was last week and it was very strong.

It pummeled the western side of Pangasinan province, along with its neighboring provinces on the west (Zambales) and the north-east. It was the strongest typhoon encountered in those provinces in so many decades.

Our mango trees average about 35 years old. About one-third of them were either knocked down or their big branches were broken. Other mango farms have 40 to hundred percent casualty! Since thousands of mango trees were damaged in Pangasinan and Zambales – known for their sweet and good quality mangos – it is safe to expect that the price of mangos will drastically increase next year and the coming years as those mango trees in my estimation, will take at least 8 years or more to recover their huge and sprawling branches that produce the mangos.

A number of our forest trees beside the stream, some of which I myself planted 15 or 17 years ago, were either felled or uprooted and washed away by the strong flash flood. But most of our forest trees remained standing. I would say that it was their protection perhaps that minimized the damage to our mango trees because mango farms nearby with few or no tall forest trees near them suffered heavy damage. This highlights the beauty of agro-forestry farming.

Many houses were damaged, submerged by flood, some have their roofs blown away by strong winds. Some power lines were toppled, and many barangays or villages are expected to have electricity after 2 or 3 months.

The early onset of the rains was good because rice farmers can start planting early, which will reduce the rice prices in the 3rd quarter of the year. Grass and forest fires in the uplands and the midland farms have also stopped, unlike in previous years where there were still some grassfires until May or June. But a typhoon of such strength and power was definitely bad. Some savings by farmers set aside for the planting season have been used to repair their damaged houses, repair their submerged hand tractors and tricycles, or replace their lost farm animals.

The bigger challenge is in the uplands: how to make those denuded mountains be teeming with big forest trees again in order to reduce flash flood during heavy rains. Since the government – the owner and administrator of those wide mountains – is not doing its job in preserving the forest, other forms of forest land management may have to be explored, with the ultimate objective of making those denuded mountains become thickly forested again.

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