Emergency assistance to the victims of floods and landslides in Ecuador


Location of operation: ECUADOR
Amount of Decision: EUR 1,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/ECU/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1 - Rationale:

Ecuador has been experiencing heavy rainfall since early February. Between 9 February and 20 March 2006, the rainfall was particularly intense, resulting in serious flooding, rivers overflowing and landslides in five out of 22 provinces in Ecuador, affecting most of the coastal region(1). It is important to note that the precipitation during the period of reference was marked by its intensity, causing torrential rainfall registering 105 mm/m2 per day, when the normal average in this period is 60 mm/m2/day according to INAHMI (National Meteorology Service).

The Ecuadorian Civil Defence estimations of 23 March indicated that 27,525 families (165,150 people) are affected by these heavy rains over most of the coastal region, based on data provided by the municipalities. Floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains have left 13 confirmed deaths; 800 families (4,800 people) have been evacuated to public shelters and 703 families (4,218 people) have lost everything (houses, sources of income). Data are corroborated by some NGOs, church organisations and the OCHA situation reports. The authorities say up to 4,100 families (25,000 people) are facing food insecurity and lack of drinking water after two months of downpours.(2)

All provinces have reported losses in rice, corn, cocoa, bananas, peanuts and maracuya. According to preliminary information from the Ministry of Agriculture, the initial agricultural losses are around 12,201 hectares in rice and corn production alone. The total number of farmers affected is estimated at 4,663. This figure will increase when the evaluation of the other crops in the most remote areas is available. According to an NGO long established in the region, more than 25,000 hectares of crop land, primary rice paddies have been destroyed by the floods.(3)

Some of the affected communities have experienced damage to major roads and bridges, causing difficulties in accessing affected areas. In El Oro province five bridges have been destroyed, and in Los Rios province four roads have been seriously affected. The initial estimation of damage to houses in this province alone is that 1,489 houses are affected.

Key stakeholders (Communities, Civil Defence, Ministry of Health and Ecuadorian Red Cross staff) share the view that the phenomenon is utterly atypical, because of the speed of the water increase, the fact that it happened in two consecutive rounds, its intensity and its impact on the population. It is very similar to what happened in the country during the El Niño disaster in winter 1997-1998. According to INAHMI, the high rainfall trend will continue until the beginning of May, when the rainy season ends. Extreme rainfall and strong winds are expected in the coming weeks.

On 21 March, the Ecuadorian government declared a national agricultural and educational emergency. The government is unable, or unwilling, due to serious budgetary restrictions, to sign a national emergency decree which would imply allocating additional funds for the response. Ecuador is currently experiencing a difficult climate where social tensions are growing among the population. Social unrest is spreading in at least five provinces (Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Imbabura and Pastaza). Reasons for this include the central government's failure to transfer to the provinces their annual financial allocations; social protest against the TLC (Tratado de Libre Comercio) with the USA; and demonstrations of the petrol workers' association claiming significant financial compensation for persistent poor labour rights management.

As a consequence, the national and local capacity to respond is complicated by budgetary constraints, political strikes and road blockades in many provinces. The Civil Defence, having seen its annual budget reduced last year from USD 500,000 to USD 50,000 for the entire country, is weakened and does not have many windows of opportunity to implement a full evaluation of damage and a proper needs assessment, let alone respond to a disaster such as the current one.

It has also to be recalled that Ecuador is a highly disaster-prone area and is characterized by high vulnerability:

- 40.8% of the population lives in poverty and 17.7% in extreme poverty (UNDP 2005)

- 21.1% of children under five years old suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 11.1% from underweight (SIISE(4) 2004)

- 58% of children under five years old suffer from anaemia (SIISE 2004)

- In rural areas, access to basic services is limited. Only half of the population has access to safe drinking water, while basic sanitation facilities are only available for 37% of the population

Furthermore, the affected regions are just emerging from a drought which occurred in late 20055 and lasted for three months, resulting in a compacting of the ground and already putting at risk a significant part of the agricultural harvest production.

The response of the government is minimal: USD45 will be donated per family per month, for the two coming months, covering two thousand families and the Ministry of Social Welfare is distributing 6,267 family food rations.

The number of affected families currently supported by humanitarian assistance does not cover the full range of needs and the local capacity remains limited. The Ecuadorian Civil Defence has almost no means to respond to the emergency, and neither does the Ecuadorian Red Cross. The stocks are mostly empty and the financial means exhausted, as observed during the DG ECHO6 field mission in two of the most affected municipalities (Quevedo & Mocache) of Los Rios province.

A DG ECHO mission was deployed to Los Rios province from 22 to 23 March in order to assess the humanitarian situation in the disaster-affected areas, and to help to design DG ECHO's intervention. Two meetings were called with DG ECHO partners operating in the country with the aim of coordinating the humanitarian assistance response7. The following conclusions were reached:

- An aggravation of the situation is highly probable, due to the fact that the rainy season will not end before May.

- The affected families are especially vulnerable people from the rural and marginalurban areas, with extremely limited coping capacities and with significant needs in terms of water and sanitation and crop recovery. A need to improve disaster management and preparedness has been identified;

- The limited amount of resources already pledged by the different donors is focused on the very short-term emergency phase, but acute needs for the following months are soon going to be the priority.

The current evaluation of the situation would indicate that no further humanitarian intervention after this one will be required. Nevertheless, DG ECHO will closely monitor the evolving situation, in conjunction with the monitoring of projects under this decision, so that an appropriate response can be made to any continuing serious humanitarian needs which remain unmet.