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Wednesday 27 April 2016

Ecuador’s shelter and water crisis – ‘The situation is much worse than we had anticipated.’ ShelterBox team sees children begging in the streets with empty water bottles, and fields suffocated by ‘black water’
Ecuador’s shelter and water crisis – ‘The situation is much worse than we had anticipated.’ ShelterBox team sees children begging in the streets with empty water bottles, and fields suffocated by ‘black water’


There is a new urgency in the aid programme for the coastal communities of Ecuador following the massive earthquake on 16 April. Flooding had already poisoned crops around Portoviejo, and infrastructure damage has now left families without safe drinking water.  

ShelterBox responders Jon Berg and Kara Lapso have just returned to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, from an eye-opening visit to the coastal quake zone. Here in Portoviejo, one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and its sixth largest, they found not only wrecked buildings and cracked roads, but children shaking empty bottles at passers-by, thirsty for clean water.

The municipality of Portoviejo experienced massive flooding eight days before the earthquake. Kara says, ‘This inundation brought black water into the rural, farming communities, filling their fields with excess minerals and suffocating the crops. Not only will their livelihoods struggle, but they are now more vulnerable to life-threatening mosquitoes that carry Zika, Dengue and Malaria.’

The water filtration plant in the Municipality of Portoviejo, 40 kilometres inland from the Pacific coast epicentre of the quake, was severely damaged in the earthquake and is now unable to dispense filtered water. Kara explained what she and Jon had witnessed. ‘The streets are lined with children and families shaking water bottles filled only with sand and rocks. They hold signs telling passers-by that they are without water, and they are in desperate need of food.’

Among ShelterBox’s arsenal of aid products is water filtration equipment and water carriers, which allow a family to make polluted or dirty water potable. Alongside the UK agency’s usual Shelter Kit packages, containing tools and waterproofing to repair damaged homes or to create basic shelters, it is now arranging delivery of 1,700 water filters. The aim is for up to 2,000 families to receive a mix of Shelter Kits, water filtration, mosquito nets, cooking equipment, and all-important solar lighting as the area has only limited power supplies.   

Plans are urgently being made to ship all this equipment from Panama, and to call on Spanish-speaking response team members to oversee its distribution in partnership with local agency Progad and charity partner Habitat for Humanity.

Kara, a social work masters student focusing on community development and social justice in the USA, adds, ‘Our project is all subject to approval from the Ecuador Government for us to operate in their country, and they already have our letter of commitment. Portoviejo alone has 3,242 affected homes and an additional 300 homes that are completely destroyed. The outside aid community has barely touched it in regards to shelter assistance.’

The quake on 16 April killed an estimated 650 people across Ecuador’s coastal strip, an area popular with tourists. Subsequent tremors and quakes have further weakened damaged buildings and infrastructure. 26,000 people sought refuge in temporary shelters, and 16,600 were severely injured, crowding the few hospitals that remain standing on the coast, and inundating those in the capital city of Quito.

The flooding and quakes will bring an estimated $2 -$3 billion recovery price tag to a country already suffering loss of oil revenue, and now their tourist economy will be hit too. Kara says, ‘The country faces the extreme need to collaborate with international aid agencies, such as ShelterBox, to fill gaps in the response so people can recover with dignity.’

‘Flooding and quakes have caused large cracks in the newly paved streets with crevices of 3-4 meters deep. With the addition of collapsed bridges and the imminent threat of landslides, we had difficulty navigating the rough terrain. However, as we persevered through the detours and over precarious roads to reach the families that were most affected and are most in need, we became aware that the situation was much worse than we had anticipated.’

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