THE water levels in reservoirs are at “safe levels” with an adequate margin available before Metro Manila’s main source of water hits the critical mark, a Palace communications official said on Sunday. 

Assistant Secretary for Radio of the Presidential Communications Office Jose Maria M. Villarama II told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of a briefing that according to Task Force El Niño, “Angat Dam’s critical level is 180 meters, but right now we’re at around 200,” he said. 

“What we’re experiencing now is a strong and mature El Niño,” he said.

Damage to agriculture has been estimated at P1.31 billion, which Mr. Villarama described as low compared to 2009, when the losses hit a record P17 billion.

Asked about agricultural workers affected by El Niño, Mr. Villarama said the Task Force and the Departments of Social Welfare and Development and Labor and Employment are offering a cash-for-work program. 

“We help them earn money through short-term jobs, such as construction, fixing of irrigation canals, or gardening,” he said.

More than 24,000 farmers and fisherfolk have been affected by dry conditions across more than 25,000 hectares in seven regions. The Task Force estimates that 70 provinces will be affected by El Niño.

At the same briefing, Mr. Villarama said La Niña has a 55% chance of starting as early as June.

He added that the government is not confident that the rainfall will offset the damage from the dry conditions.

“The first 2-3 months of La Niña are likely to (have) below-normal rainfall,” Mr. Villarama told BusinessWorld via Viber. — Chloe Mari A. Hufana