Ecuador Earthquake Response: No Community Forgotten

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador in April killed 660 people and injured 4,600 within the first 72 hours.

Many people’s homes were damaged or completely destroyed. Thousands of families were left to rebuild amidst aftershocks of grief and fear. The Ecuadorian government and aid organisations responded quickly in the devastated city of Pedernales and nearby Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces. However, it soon became clear that remote communities in the region had not been reached.

When more than two weeks passed without aid in these remote areas, Medair stepped in to respond to the most urgent needs in the rural San Gregorio and Borbón parishes of Esmeraldas. When the team arrived in San Gregorio, a local leader said, “We haven’t had anyone else come here.”

The Esmeraldas province contains dozens of “invisible” villages – small agricultural communities that are difficult to access. Before the earthquake, local families were vulnerable due to poverty and isolation; now they face additional losses of shelter, income, and security. Most community members belong to indigenous minority groups and lack citizen status, making them effectively nonexistent to the government. Seeing the needs, Medair has begun working in these hard-to-reach villages others could not reach.

People’s primary need is for safe shelter. Wooden houses that previously stood on stilts now tilt to the side or lie in pieces on the ground. Many have constructed makeshift shelters from bamboo poles and plastic trash bags just to have something to protect them against the weather. However, the shelters offer little privacy or protection. They are overcrowded, exposed, and unstable.

Carmen Chilimia is the mother of 11 children. She is a leader in the indigenous community of Santa Rosa, which is only accessible by boat. Carmen was at home with her family when the earthquake hit.

In the face of disaster, Carmen and the Santa Rosa community display remarkable resilience and solidarity. Yet they desperately need supplies, adequate shelter, and training in how to rebuild.

That’s why Medair began distributing emergency shelter supplies but also kitchen sets and mosquito nets. Many families can’t afford even these basic supplies; others live too far from a market to purchase them. The team provided other critical relief items including jerry cans and water filters to provide clean drinking water and limit the spread of waterborne illness.

Once immediate shelter needs have been met and families can begin to recover, Medair will train the community to monitor and create safe shelters to protect themselves against future disasters. As a result, 220 families like Carmen’s will have safe shelter once again and be more resilient against future disasters. Thousands more will be reached through shelter training and support.

Aside from anxiety over the loss of possessions, safe shelter, and work, many survivors suffer from the psychological effects of living through crisis. Mothers have said that their children are still scared to sleep for fear of another earthquake. “Since the earthquake occurred, my five-year-old has been very nervous,” says Carmen. “If he sees a cable in the air moving, he thinks it is an earthquake and starts screaming.” In response, Medair will provide 800 children and 200 adults with psychosocial support to help them move beyond fear and into healing.

“This is the first help that our community has received,” Carmen says. “It is important for us to be able to cope in this difficult moment. I realise that many people have problems; we are not asking for aid in great quantity, but just something small that will last.”

Carmen’s spirit of determination characterizes the remote communities of Esmeraldas. Despite being shaken by disaster, families are motivated to restore their homes and lives. Medair’s training and supplies will empower them to rebuild sustainably and effectively. By responding to needs in hard-to-reach places, we will support isolated families and ensure that no community is forgotten.

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© UNICEF/Castellanos