El Niño Threatens Recovery among ‘Neglected’ Fisherfolk in Typhoon Haiyan’s Ground Zero

Thursday, 24 March 2016 13:19 GMT

Jun Castillo, President of the Tacloban Fisherfolk Urban Association, shares how El Niño has affected the city’s fishermen and women, many of whom are still recovering from the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan. (Photo: Airah Cadiogan/Oxfam)

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“The waters are warmer and so the fish go farther into deeper, cooler waters. This has made it more difficult and more expensive for us to catch fish,” shared Losanto 'Jun' Castillo, a fisherman from Tacloban City, known as the ‘ground zero’ of super typhoon Haiyan.

“While the impacts of El Niño on farmers have been highlighted in the media, the plight of fisherfolk is less known. But this is also affecting fishermen and women, many of whom are still in the process of recovering from the total loss of livelihood after typhoon Haiyan," said Castillo, who is the President of the Tacloban Fisherfolk Urban Association.

Castillo spoke to an audience of local government officials and civil society organizations at a forum in Tacloban organized by Oxfam and the University of the Philippines’ Center for Local and Regional Governance (UP CLRG).

Domingo Jadloc, chair of Village 5 Small Fisherfolk Association in Balangiga, another Haiyan-ravaged municipality in Eastern Samar province, was also present.

“This forum is an important venue for us, small fisherfolk, to talk about how we feel like we are being neglected in discussions related to this El Niño response. We have also been closely feeling its impacts,” said Jadloc.

 “In Balangiga, from December 2015 to February 2016, the recorded catch of migratory big fish like blue marlin was only 14, down from 47 in the same period last year. In the first half of March 2016 – normally the ‘peak season’ for catching big fish – the recorded catch was only 17, down from 55 last year," Jadloc shared. 

"We need support as much as the farmers who have lost their crops,” he added.

Policy Reforms Needed 

According to Dennis dela Torre, UP CLRG research fellow for Climate Change Adaptation, the issues raised by the fishermen demonstrate why multi-stakeholder discussions like this,the first in a series organized by Oxfam and UP CLRG, were being conducted.

“Different vulnerable sectors are suffering from this super-charged El Niño in different ways. These nuances are important to note if we are to propose much-needed policy reforms to enable the government to better respond now and in the future,” said dela Torre.

“We aim to cover different provinces from Luzon to Mindanao so that we can truly assess national and local readiness against the impacts of El Niño. We will submit short- and long-term policy recommendations to reduce risks in the face of slow-onset climactic events to the concerned agencies and to the incoming administration and Congress,” dela Torre added, referring to the national elections that will take place on 9 May 2016.

For Castillo, reforms in risk transfer mechanisms for fisherfolk should be studied.

“We are calling on the government to support us not just after big disasters like typhoons, but also now that our livelihoods are being threatened once again by El Niño. We are losing money and our insurance only covers losses due to typhoons,” Castillo said.

Government Task Force

In September 2015, the Philippine government set up an inter-agency task force headed by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to tackle the impacts of the prevailing El Niño.

A PhP19.2B (US$413.4M) fund has been approved for the implementation of the Roadmap to Address the Impacts of El Niño (RAIN), through various government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Public Works and Highways, who are all members of the task force.

“We commend the national government for setting up the inter-agency task force in anticipation of the impacts of this strong El Niño,” said Roy Soledad, Oxfam’s programme manager in Eastern Samar.

“But urgent questions at hand include: how can affected local government units and communities access the funds? When will these funds be available? Information around the guidelines to access these funds must be released and disseminated by the NEDA as soon as possible.”

Soledad reiterated: “Even as the super-charged El Niño is nearing its end, its impact on affected communities, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on fishing and farming, may last much longer. Immediate responses and long-term reforms are, therefore, needed.”  

Global Impacts

Filipino farmers and fisherfolk are just among millions of others across the globe suffering the impacts of El Niño.

According to Oxfam, an estimated 60 million people from different parts of the world are facing worsening hunger and poverty throughout the year because of diminishing yields and crop failure caused by drought and water shortage.

“As with most extreme weather events, those from the poorest communities from developing countries are the ones bearing the brunt of this El Niño,” said Soledad.

In light of the ceremonial signing of the historic Paris Agreement next month, it is high time not only for national governments to review their response mechanisms for El Niño, but for rich countries to come through with the funds needed to support vulnerable countries cope in situations like this.

The current crisis in Southern Africa clearly shows what happens when we fail to invest in helping communities adapt to climate change, so they could grow and buy enough food in a warming world. 

Airah Cadiogan is the Climate Change Policy and Campaigns Officer for Oxfam in the Philippines. Join the campaign for world leaders to urgently provide funding for countries facing an immediate humanitarian crisis. Sign the StoptheHunger petition.