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UNHCR delivers vital Ecuador quake relief to worst-hit areas

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UNHCR delivers vital Ecuador quake relief to worst-hit areas

Two field teams have distributed tents and plastic sheeting in the Andean nation's devastated Esmeraldas province as a major UNHCR airlift gets underway.
20 April 2016
Earthquake survivors shelter under a tent in Chamanga, Ecuador.

CHAMANGA, Ecuador, April 20 (UNHCR) - The UN Refugee Agency has distributed tents and plastic sheeting to people made homeless by the worst earthquake to strike Ecuador in decades, which killed hundreds of people, flattened buildings and knocked out power.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck Ecuador's Pacific Coast on Saturday (April 16), killing at least 500 people and injuring more than 4,000.

Two UNHCR field teams reached the worst affected localities of Chamanga and Pedernales in Ecuador's northwest Esmeraldas province on Tuesday, at the vanguard of a major relief response lead by the Ecuadorian Government that will be ramped up with the arrival of an aid airlift later today (April 20).

Working with Ecuadorian authorities, UNHCR staff delivered 40 family igloo tents and plastic sheeting to Chamanga, where 570 homes were destroyed, leaving more than half of the population of some 5,000 people without shelter. UNHCHR teams then continued to the locality of Canoas to deliver 20 more tents and plastic sheeting.

"Two walls collapsed and the house was split," said Albeiro Sánchez,* a Colombian refugee in his 40s whose family with six children were made homeless by the powerful quake. "Now we are staying with a niece, but we have nowhere of our own, or anywhere to keep our belongings."

As aftershocks continue to rattle the area, residents' nerves remained on edge. Access to clean drinking water and a finding enough tents are of particular concern to authorities in the country, especially as the rainy season has begun.

"Even though circumstances are still critical, we are witnessing vast solidarity," said Andrea Ingham, the head of UNHCR's field office in Esmeraldas. "During our visit, a water truck came from the town of Atacames, thanks to the support of a local hotel. And many others arrived offering food and other items."

Following a request for help from the Government of Ecuador, an aircraft carrying vital relief aid left Copenhagen - UNHCR's global logistics hub - bound for Quito on Wednesday. Aid included 900 tents, plastic sheets, 15,000 sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and - in view of the Zika virus risk and other mosquito-borne diseases - 18,000 much-needed repellent-impregnated mosquito nets.

The aim is to distribute, in coordination with National authorities, the supplies from Quito as quickly as feasible to support the neediest among 40,000 people - refugees, asylum seekers and locals alike - in the worst hit areas, and in accordance with priorities being determined locally. The focus will be in the western region, around Manabi, Santo Domingo, Esmeraldas and Guayaquil.

"With the continuous aftershocks in Ecuador, we must act quickly and effectively to ensure the welfare of the affected communities is addressed," said María Clara Martín, UNHCR Representative in Ecuador. "The contents of the airlift will provide much needed relief and UNHCR remains committed to continue its work on the ground to support persons in need of international protection and the host community alike."

Ecuador has the largest refugee population in Latin America. Its people have generously welcomed over 200,000 Colombian refugees and others in need of international protection, many of whom had settled in the earthquake-affected areas, as well as many refugees of other nationalities. UNHCR is committed to helping Ecuador and its people with support for refugee and host community populations.

To help provide life-saving aid to families in Ecuador, please donate now.

*Name changed due to confidentiality reasons