Ecuador earthquake: People face long road to recovery

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An estimated 720,000 people are in need of assistance following the massive earthquake that rocked the country on 16 April. In Manabi province, which bore the brunt of the earthquake, thousands of people have been left homeless and are sleeping outdoors alongside roads, or in the countryside with little or no protection from the elements. With no access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, there is a high risk of disease. This week, CARE will start to distribute mattresses and mosquito nets to people most in need.

We will also be distributing emergency shelter packages to hundreds of households, including household rubble removal kits, tarpaulins and mosquito nets to help protect people from diseases and support them as they begin to clear their homes of debris and rebuild.

Several aftershocks combined with the devastation to their homes have left people traumatised and in fear. “Every house in our community needs a psychologist,” says 72-year-old Ramona. She told us:

Life is very hard and sad now. People are afraid of the aftershocks. They are depressed because they lost family members. They lost their entire livelihood.

As at 27 April, 659 people are confirmed dead, 40 are missing, with 4,605 people injured. Buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged, and more than 29,000 people are living in temporary shelters.

Lucho and his wife were inside their house in Jama, Manabi province, when the earth started to shake on 16 April. The 70-year-old fell from his wheelchair and was dragged out of the house by family members. Since the earthquake, Lucho and his wife have been sleeping in a makeshift tent across the street from their house. He told us: ''The earth is shaking every night. We are scared and will not return to our house until it stops''.

In recent days, there have been lots of aftershocks. It is deeply traumatic, especially for children. They are afraid to be in the cities because friends, neighbours and family members were buried under rubble. 13-year-old Javier told us: ''Jama is a disaster. I already saw pictures on TV before I came here to my grandparents’ house. It does not make sense\'.

As people are still living in fear because of the disaster and several aftershocks, CARE will also provide psychosocial support to help children and adults to overcome trauma. 41-year-old Fernanda from Canoa, a coastal town in Manabi province, told us: “My daughter keeps asking me on a daily basis about the well-being of a friend of hers whose family lost everything.” ''She worries a lot. At night she cannot sleep. When she wakes up, she starts to scream and cry''.

“A psychologist should come to visit us and other families in this town,” Fernanda adds.

Children cannot go to school. The earthquake has destroyed more than 280 educational institutions. Within the next few weeks, CARE plans to support children and youth through recreational activities and psychosocial assistance to help them recover from the shock and trauma of this devastating event.

"Heavy destruction is almost exclusively seen in urban centres making it more difficult to build back safer in future,” says Bill Flinn, CARE’s UK-based shelter expert currently deployed to Ecuador.

“In urban centres where buildings are made out of concrete by contracted builders, it is harder to assure safer standards. Concrete is extremely dangerous in an earthquake.” ''Earthquakes don’t kill people, it is buildings which do''.

“In rural areas it is relatively easier to support people on the self-reconstruction process because people build houses on their own with material such as bamboo or wood which is safer in earthquakes.” Bill will be advising on reconstruction and rebuilding in Ecuador following the earthquake.

Canoa, a coastal town that was a popular holiday destination, suffered extensive damage during the earthquake. “People here were easy-going, now they are not. Everything fell off and has changed. Nobody wants to go to the beach any more,” says Iven, a local youth who is now volunteering with the clean-up operation in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The earthquake’s effects reach beyond the cities. People from rural communities also face broken water pipes and food shortages. During the day, many of them are leaving their homes to sit alongside the road to be seen and helped. Fernando, aged 40, in Jama, Manabi province, told us:

''Right after the earthquake everybody helped. But now, little by little we are feeling alone. Tomorrow is going to be even sadder than today, because by then we will have finished our food and the jobs we had are gone''.