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Implications of intensifying El Niño conditions for drought risk and food security

This report analyzes the Implications of intensifying El Niño conditions for drought risk and food security in the Philippines.
Adili Panja


Rainfall is influenced by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—one of the key climate drivers in the region with a recurrence cycle of two to seven years. Years with a strong El Niño cycle are associated with lower rainfall overall especially between December and February, while years with a strong La Niña signal are associated with large increases in rainfall between October and December in the central eastern parts of the country.

Over the 20th century, the Philippines has experienced a number of serious droughts linked to the El Niño that have had major implications for food security. Historically, El Niño-induced droughts have resulted in severe agricultural losses of over 6 percent with key crops such as rice and coconut being particularly affected. Under climate change, increased warming and more erratic rainfall patterns could exacerbate drought risk, particularly if combined with a delay in the onset of rains. Between 2015 and 2016, the strongest El Niño event ever recorded formed, affecting several countries in Asia—including the Philippines.

This study*aims to assess the implications of intensification of El Niño events with climate change and the subsequent influence these climatic oscillations could have on food security in the Philippines.

*Download the full report from the right-hand column.

Key messages (abridged)

This study can be summarised by the following key messages:

  • The Philippines is highly vulnerable to climate risks including typhoons, floods and drought. Addressing and adapting to these risks is essential for achieving zero hunger.

  • The Philippines is traditionally associated with typhoon impact. However, the El Niño phenomenon can be equally destructive: the climate cycle is associated with lower rainfall between December and February which can have severe effects on the second cropping cycle and can deplete water resources for the main cropping cycle.

Impacts of the 1997/8 El Niño induced drought in the Philippines (Source: PSA, page 9 of the report).
  • As of early 2016, over 85 percent of the territory was considered to be affected by the dry conditions brought about by El Niño. An emergency food security assessment carried out in March 2016 indicated that, in some of the most affected provinces, over 70 percent of farmers have reported negative impact on crops and over 60 percent of households have resorted to extreme forms of coping such as selling productive assets.

  • Addressing the recurring risks associated with El Niño will require investments in early warning and preparedness, adaptation strategies and risk management techniques. This will ensure support for the most vulnerable.


Based on the findings of its economic and climatic analyses, this report suggests the following recommendations for drought risk management:

Support the most vulnerable:

  • Vulnerable communities who depend exclusively on rainfed agriculture are among those that will be most affected by drought.
  • Introduction of risk management approaches such as integrated water management systems or irrigation infrastructure can help reduce the impact of drought on the most vulnerable.

Invest in early warning and preparedness:

  • The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) provides monthly outlooks with warnings of potential drought and dryspell risk through the country.
  • These efforts should be promoted and enhanced as new technologies become available. Besides the disaster management community in the Philippines should mainstream the use of these bulletins to guide preparedness efforts.
  • Adequate resources should be committed to develop community-level early warning systems and to strengthen the information preparedness for neighborhoods at the frontline of natural disasters.

Invest in adaptation:

  • Drought risk management and adaptation efforts based on comprehensive climate analysis need to be integrated into agricultural and development strategies to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities—which are also the most affected by drought risk.
  • Such measures may include livelihood diversification, introduction of drought-tolerant crops, and enhancing irrigation systems.
  • A strong community ownership of adaptation measures is the key solution to address the challenge sustainably.

Invest in risk management and risk transfer:

  • In some cases, preparedness and adaptation will not be sufficient because adaptation measures are either too expensive or unfeasible. In these cases, it will be important to scale up capacity to respond to disasters, support early recovery, and transfer risks through disaster risk financing and insurance.
  • To design and implement programs and initiatives that align with the strategic plans and policy framework of national government will help enhance the effectiveness and robustness of risk transfer mechanisms.

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