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Looming Philippines drought may cause water, power outages

A prolonged dry spell in the Philippines has raised the possibility of water shortages and power cuts in the capital and surrounding areas, officials said Thursday.

President Gloria Arroyo had asked the public to save water and ordered all agencies to prepare for a drought if rains do not come by August, the presidential palace said.

Falling water levels had affected the operations of hydroelectric dams that provide power to metropolitan Manila and surrounding areas, forcing the state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) to introduce daily three-hour outages which started Wednesday, the firm said.

"We are in fact already undertaking (cloud) seeding operations over our dams to stimulate precipitation to produce rain. However, we must at least have natural clouds to produce positive results from the seeding," Napocor said.

Napocor sources said power was already being diverted from its coal-fired plants to minimize power cuts in the capital.

Company president Cyril del Callar pledged that the utility would provide "whatever power supply we have in the system available" to minimize economic disruptions.

"Today and for the next few days at least we do not expect more outages in Luzon and Metro Manila," he said over local television station ABS-CBN.

Outgoing Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said "we expect the situation to improve over the weekend," as there were signs of more rain in the coming days.

Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said Metro Manila received minimal rainfall in June and virtually none so far in July, adding that if the situation continued in August, the weather bureau would have to declare a drought in Metro Manila and other parts of the main island of Luzon.

Arroyo has ordered water impounding — storing available water in wells and cisterns — as a short-term solution.

For the long-term she has called for the rehabilitation of deep wells, planting of drought-resistant crops, modifying the cropping calendar, and monitoring the ground water level.

The Philippines was hit by an acute energy crisis in the early 1990s due to lack of investment in power plants, pushing the economy into recession.

Businessmen have complained that power costs remain among the highest in Asia outside Japan.

Arroyo said in her state of the nation address on Monday that Luzon would need an extra 150 megawatts of power supply by 2010.

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