By Maria Golda Hilario
Just last June 28, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 29 renaming National Disaster Consciousness Month to National Disaster Resilience Month. The government’s shift from building awareness to building resilience is more than welcome.
Yet the lack of power continues to be grossly overlooked in response and rehabilitation efforts, despite the harsh lessons Typhoon “Yolanda” has taught even veteran humanitarian actors.
I experienced this firsthand when I was deployed to be part of a rapid assessment team in Tacloban two days after Yolanda. It was our power bank, and not our wad of cash, which helped us secure a room for our team. A bicycle enabled a barangay health worker to travel from Basey in Samar to Tacloban to solicit medicines for nursing mothers who gave birth in the wake of the typhoon. In contrast, some organizations were not able to secure vehicles to conduct initial assessments beyond Tacloban for lack of available fuel.
We at the Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities verified this in our new case study on humanitarian response. After interviewing and surveying representatives of several humanitarian organizations which responded in Yolanda’s wake, we confirmed that most of these groups have systematically missed integrating energy needs and energy considerations in their respective contingency and response plans.
There was a general assumption then that blackouts would be short, the government would restore power immediately, the local market would resume operations soon after, and there would be enough fuel supplies. This dangerous assumption has led to more costly choices, including the procurement of fossil-fueled generators which distorted local markets and created competition with the survivors themselves. This lack of foresight has also proved fatal, when an unattended kerosene lamp razed a tent city in Tacloban and claimed the lives of a mother and her six children.
Despite these shortcomings, the humanitarian community can also be credited for their efforts to distribute solar lamps to disaster-affected communities. Nearly four years after Yolanda, some of the solar lamps that were distributed by humanitarian organizations are still being used by Taclobanons who have yet to be connected to the main electricity grid.
The support of humanitarian organizations has also enabled Yolanda survivors to lead the way in integrating renewable energy solutions into their community disaster risk reduction and preparedness efforts. A number of Yolanda survivors and students of Eastern Visayas State University were able to assemble “TekPaks,” portable solar-powered generators we designed for emergencies, which we handed over to fisherfolk from Laguna who were affected by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009.
Renewable energy would not only help humanitarian actors better deliver in times of disasters. It would also allow vulnerable communities to become resilient in times of crisis. Starting this month, we encourage government and humanitarian agencies alike to consider how future humanitarian responses will be energized.
Maria Golda Hilario is the associate for program development of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, a climate change and clean energy policy group.