How solar panels helped Iloilo fishermen recover from Yolanda
ILOILO, Philippines – Three years after his family experienced the wrath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Rommel Marcelino still finds it difficult to describe the tragedy.
“The experience scarred my family. It’s still hard to find the right words. My 6 kids were traumatized,” he said.
The 41-year-old fisherman lives in Barangay Barosbos in Carles, the northern-most town of Iloilo province, and one of the areas hardest hit in November 2013.
“Our house was made of light materials, so we decided to stay in our neighbor’s house when the storm hit. We had to hide in the bathroom because it was the only concrete part of the house. It was a really difficult situation,” Marcelino recalled.
The typhoon not only took away their home but also their livelihood. In the aftermath of the typhoon, Marcelino and his fellow fisher folks found that their marine protected areas were destroyed.
In Barangay Barosbos alone, more than 700 houses and 75 fishing boats were damaged by the storm surge. In nearby Barangay Bancal, more than 1,600 houses were destroyed.
The months that followed were not easier for fisherfolk. Aside from having to rebuild their homes and boats, those in Barosbos had do so with no electricity.
“It took 3 months before electricity was restored in our area,” Marcelino, who is president of their association, recalled.
Thankfully, though, they did not need to look far for their solution to their energy problems.
The BBMA, their organization, was one of the beneficiaries of solar panels that were distributed by the Iloilo Caucus of Development NGO Networks (Iloilo Code) and Christian Aid as part of the “Relief and Early Recovery” effort.
“After the dialogue we conducted with different fisherfolk organizations in different barangays, we came up with this project. They were complaining about the high costs of electricity, especially after Yolanda. It made it difficult for them to financially recover,” Rosana Pandes, Iloilo Code community organizer, said.
She added, “We provided support for the fisherfolk of the different villages of Carles by giving them solar charging stations.”
Each solar charging station is built using a design that can withstand harsher weather conditions. It also houses 3 to 4 solar panels that can charge up to 4 automotive batteries a day, and power lights and small appliances.
But giving help wasn’t easy, Pandes admitted. Some fishermen and barangay officials were initially opposed to the project because it competed with existing power businesses in the towns.
“We had to convince them that it was an opportunity for small fisherfolk to lessen their costs in charging their batteries. In case of blackouts, these charging stations will prove useful. Plus, the light it provides at night serves as a lighthouse of sorts for the fishermen – to guide them safely back to shore,” Pandes said.
Help on income
In nearby Barangay Bancal in Carles, Agapito Dumaguin mans his organization’s solar charging station. The president of the Bancal Fishermen’s Association (BFA), Dumaguin said the charging station helps them save on costs they can use for the children’s education.
“I am able to save P500 every week…. Plus, we no longer have to worry when we’re hit with blackouts because we can charge our batteries and phones. We no longer have power problems since this station was built,” the 56-year-old said.
The solar stations like the one in Barosbos and Bancal were left to fisherfolk organizations to manage. According to Dumaguin, they only ask P15 for charging so they have funds to use in case the solar panels get damaged.
“Even those initially opposed to the idea are now charging here. We accept them, even those who aren’t part of our organization, because this was given for everyone’s use. Many people charge here now,” Dumaguin said.
He added: “We’re really thankful for this project because it helps us small fishermen with our expenses. We don’t have to go to the town proper to charge our batteries and buy ice for the fish. We save a lot of our resources.”
Marcelino echoed Dumaguin's sentiments, adding that the solar charging stations also help their organization’s income.
“We only ask for small donations because our source of power is free. Every donation is logged in in our records – cash in and cash out – for easier auditing. We use it to maintain our solar panels and other operational expenses,” Marcelino said.
While the solar charging station was intended mainly to charge batteries for the use of patrol boats that guard the marine protected area, it also became useful for the household. “Our kids also benefit from this because it provided lighting at home which makes it easier for them to study at night,” added Marcelino.
“The money they used to buy kerosene before is now used to buy rice and food. They don’t have to go far either to charge their equipment,” Pandes said on the impact of the project.
She said the project was successful because it answered a direct need of the communities.
“The communities themselves demanded and asked for this. It’s a community-driven project so they really take good care of the facilities given. Unlike other post-Yolanda projects, this wasn’t imposed on them,” Pandes said.
While the solar charging stations are already working in their partner barangays, Pandes said the long-term use and impact of the project now rests in the communities.
“I hope our partners will sustain and maintain the projects so that, even when we’re gone, the facilities will still serve its purpose. We don’t want it to be intermittent. This is for their future,” Pandes said.
Life will never be the same after Yolanda, Marcelino admitted. But help like the solar charging stations made it easier for the fishermen of Carles to get back on their feet.
“We were able to recover faster because of help like this from NGOs and private individuals. We didn't have any livelihood after the storm, but they helped us rebuild our houses and our boats,” Marcelino said.
The fishermen of Barosbos and Bancal continue to rebuild their lives. But now, they no longer have to endure the darkness. With the solar panels, life for them is brighter – and they hope it continues to be. – Rappler.com
This is part of a series of stories on Iloilo Code NGOs and Christian Aid's post-Yolanda project "Rebuilding for the Better." From August 9 to 11, a team from the organizations took MovePH to the rehabilitation sites in northern Iloilo to evaluate and document the completion of the project. The rehabilitation project covers 4 themes: renewable energy, shelter, coastal management, and livelihood. Check out other stories here: