WHILE most of the households in Tacloban are still without power at night, some households are being brightened up by the solar-powered lanterns provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UNHCR had distributed solar lamps to 6,000 families making their lives easier a month after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the Visayas region.
Even at nightfall, Mila Batica, 47, still washes clothes outside her tent, which along with the solar lamp was also provided by UNHCR at Barangay 89, one of the hardest-hit coastal districts in Tacloban City. It gets dark by 5:30 p.m.
Her carpenter husband comes late in the evening, giving her time to cook dinner for the family using the lamp.
Another beneficiary, Mila, a mother of seven, says: “Now, we take our evening meal together. We used to do this, until the storm came.”
Before the UNHCR distributed the lanterns, it was pitch black in the makeshift houses and tents at Barangay 89.
Arjun Jain, head of the UNHCR emergency team that was among the first to respond to the government’s call for assistance, said the idea behind these solar lanterns is to bring some normalcy to these communities.
“You see families getting together at night, which they could not do otherwise,” he added.
Without lighting, Jain added, “problems could occur, communities feel unsafe but with the lantern people can feel safer, the children can play, the parents can find ways to continue their work after dark.”
Fishermen use lanterns to catch fish and lobsters in the region, where fishing is one of the main sources of livelihood.
Jain also said the lamps could also be a protection tool.
“It can prevent people from being harassed when, for instance, they go to toilets. They can bring the lantern with them. In many cases, that’s where they are exposed to possible exploitation,” he added.
The solar lantern, which provides illumination from six to eight hours, also allows the charging of cell phones used by affected people to look for day jobs and find the best markets for the fish catch.
As part of the inter-agency response, UNHCR plans to distribute 13,000 more lanterns alongside other household relief items in support of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The typhoon affected some 14 million people. More than 1.1 million houses were either totally or partially destroyed. The government estimates that fewer than 100,000 Filipinos remain in 385 evacuation centers.
As the majority of the displaced have returned to their devastated communities and built makeshift houses, the government is starting to work towards rehabilitation and early recovery.
UNHCR and other agencies are helping the authorities to decongest schools that are currently used as evacuation centers before resuming classes there after the Christmas holidays.
Todate, UNHCR has provided emergency assistance to some 183,000 people, including plastic sheeting and family tents.
These temporary shelters have mushroomed as mountains of debris are being cleaned up, showing an emerging semblance of normalcy.
UNHCR has so far set up 2,000 tents in the hard-hit areas, as the government looks for relocation sites away from the shoreline.
It is putting up a total of more than 10,000 tents in the coming weeks in cooperation with the government and shelter agencies.
“Together with the solar lanterns, tents—as temporary shelter, help people to regain a sense of normalcy,” said Jain.
He added: “It’s a small step, but I think it’s an important step. Communities are getting back their confidence. I think the word is dignity. You can feel it in the families. You can feel it in the communities. Nothing is going to be the same, but it’s a start.”