The waves that once roared and ripped into the coastal community of New Washington, Aklan are calm today. Before daybreak, small-scale fishers boldly cast their nets into the very waters they used to fear.
New Washington is among the localities that suffered the brunt of typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded. Haiyan claimed more than 6300 lives, displaced millions of families, and left an economic damage worth PHP 500 Billion. The storm also destroyed the wooden bancas of about 146,700 small-scale fishers.
Erma Repedro and her family survived the Category-5 storm but her husband continued heading out to sea using his damaged boat – braving unpredictable and sometimes turbulent waters.
“My husband had to make do with his old banca so that he can continue feeding our family. There were days when I feared he will no longer come back. We have very little money to repair our boat’s holes, so I always worried that his boat would sink,” she said.
Unlike the Repedros, the family of 63-year-old Bibot Advincula of Tolosa, Leyte lost everything they had, including all their boats.
“On the day the typhoon arrived in Leyte, a deep bellow from the winds rang through the evacuation center where my family and I sought refuge. The winds shattered the glass windows and we could hear the sea swallowing and flattening our homes. Out of fear, I raised my hands in surrender. I was honestly prepared to die.”
Thankfully, Bibot and his family survived one of the worst disasters to ever hit the Philippines.
Today – more than two years after Haiyan – Erma’s husband and Bibot are back in the water with their own fibreglass boats. Fishers from their villages also rely on these humble yet powerful 15-foot bancas they themselves built.
These communities are among the recipients of 1,000 fibreglass boats produced to date through Bancas for the Philippines, a program of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) to help local fishers rebuild their lives and get back on their feet.
Bancas for the Philippines and Climate-Smart Technologies
A future defined by climate change means that more extreme weather events will come and that more fishing boats will be damaged. Considering that 40% of Philippine fishers live below the poverty line, it is important to prepare local fishers for rougher seas ahead.
Bancas for the Philippines offers a platform that improves fishers’ resilience to climate change impacts. Veering away from dole-outs and band-aid solutions, Bancas for the Philippines taught fishers how to build their own fiberglass bancas and replicate boat moulds for future use and succeeding generations.
Since its launch in February 2014, the project has reached out to 18 communities across Haiyan’s trail of destruction. These include fishing villages that received little public attention plus sparse disaster recovery assistance from local and international aid agencies.
The project provided the trainees with moulds, tools, raw material kits, and cash for work to build the bancas for their fishing villages. With the help of local partners, the project selected communities and recipients on the basis of who needed assistance the most.
“Through the generous support of partners and donors, was able to exceed its target of 600 boats. By August 2015, the fishers and boatmakers we have trained under Bancas for the Philippines have been were able to build exactly 1000 fibreglass bancas,” said Patrick Co, head of WWF-Philippines’ Adaptive Technologies Unit.
Compared with their wooden counterparts, fibreglass boats are cheaper and faster to make, and last longer if they are cared for properly. Fibreglass hulls are also watertight, lightweight and reduce maintenance requirements and costs. They are leak-proof. Naval architect Ramon Binamira Jr., who designed the project’s fibreglass boat model, estimates that the boat’s hull is at least thrice more puncture-resistant than one with an eight to ten millimeter-thick wooden frame.
Bancas for the Philippines Project Manager Toni Munar shared that some fishers had initial reluctance against to building fibreglass bancas – having relied throughout their lives on wooden vessels for food and income.
“Because we introduced a new technology, some trainees were initially not convinced about fibreglass boats as a climate-smart alternative. But when we did an impact test, they witnessed how fibreglass boats are more durable than what they were accustomed to using. This made better economic sense,” said Munar.
WWF-Philippines’ Monitoring and Evaluation Report also showed a positive response to using fibreglass boats. More than 80 percent of beneficiaries surveyed reported using their own fibreglass bancas for fishing and for monitoring marine sanctuaries.
“It was fantastic to find out that some of the boat-builders had organized themselves and had started to build fiberglass bancas independent of our project, or had developed other locally-appropriate applications of the technology. When we did our Monitoring and Evaluation, it was fulfilling to hear some of the banca recipients report that they were now able to regularly secure enough food to feed their families, which had not been the case in the aftermath of the typhoon,” said Co.
Fighting overfishing and deforestation
Aside from giving hope and transforming the lives of fishers in Haiyan-hit communities, Bancas for the Philippines has also helped reduce existing pressure on our forests and seas.
The Philippines loses about 157,000 hectares of forest cover each year. Relying on wood to rebuild the thousands of damaged boats threatens to upscale deforestation. A fiberglass banca helps curb the country’s dependence on wood as a major boatbuilding component.
Binamira estimated that the project’s fibreglass boat model was is equivalent to 28 board feet of wood. Thus, a thousand fibreglass boats have saved the country at least 28,000 board feet of wood.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) National Stock Assessment Program also showed that 10 out of 13 fishing grounds are already heavily exploited. The project avoided increasing fishing pressure by providing only 15-foot fibreglass boats without engines and by promoting artisanal fishing.
Keeping Hope Afloat
Two years after Haiyan, much remains to be done. Sustainable recovery will be a long process but Bancas for the Philippines is a pioneering initiative that empowers local fishers to chart a climate-resilient future for their families and communities.
Bibot, for example, has built more than 20 fibreglass boats for fishing families in Tolosa and continues to be a source of inspiration for his community.
Concludes Munar, “Bancas for the Philippines has given me a deep sense of hope. While I see its immediate impact on the lives of fibreglass boatmakers and recipients, I also see the project as a viable long-term solution for fishing communities that are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.”
Indeed, when you give a man some fish, you feed him for a day. But teaching him how to build his own fibreglass boat will help him secure a better future for his family.
If you would like to keep hope afloat, visit wwf.org.ph/act-now.
(This story was originally published for WWF-Philippines)