Silent Disasters: Floods bring additional challenges to vulnerable communities in Ecuador
Enrique Guevara in Panama
Heavy rain is not a new phenomenon in Andean region of South America. But despite the serious disruption the rains often cause to the lives and livelihoods of thousands, their ‘regularity’ means they’re often under-reported or fail to capture greater public attention.
In early 2012 Ecuador was hit by a series of intense storms causing floods, burst riverbanks and landslides. Volunteers from the Ecuadorian Red Cross immediately took action in the worst-hit provinces to rescue and evacuate affected people, provide pre-hospital care and psychosocial support, and assess the extent of the damage and needs.
Teresa Basurto is a mother of three. Her youngest son is 14 and studies over 300km from his home in La Armenia; her two older boys have married and left home. When a fierce storm hit the district, Teresa’s home was flooded and she lost her rice crops, chickens and pigs – her three main sources of income for the family.
Fortunately her home, made from cane and a zinc roof, withstood the battering but she was warned to stay away during the worst of the weather due to a risk of more flooding. A short period of evacuation, in which Teresa stayed with family, turned into a month and a half away from home.
Teresa remembers that the situation got worse because that she did not have a job, but with the help of friends who gave her rice seeds she was able to work again. Regaining this source of income was vital and allowed her to buy cured rice and use it as seed.
Teresa’s experience is far from unique. The National Secretariat for Risk Management in Ecuador says the storm affected over 121,000 people. More than 7,340 people had to evacuate their homes to stay in shelters or with family members. The floods damaged or destroyed homes, schools, roads, bridges and other crucial infrastructure.
With support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the Ecuadorian Red Cross provided food assistance and hygiene kits and, spread messages on disease prevention and health promotion among families in the coastal provinces of Manabi, Los Rios and Guayas.
The effects of the storms on agriculture have a significant impact on a community’s ability to recover. Rodolfo Carriel is a farmer who lives in Bebo in the district of Salitre. He is a veteran of many floods, but the severity of the disaster in 2012 took him by surprise.
When the storm hit, Rodolfo was in the Community Committee of Salitre and responded to the emergency with friends from the Committee. A 20 meter wall collapsed causing a massive flood which left his family with no rice crops, no animals and a patch of land incapable of supporting his work. The family was devastated. “We were almost left homeless,” he says.
Along with emergency assistance, the Ecuadorian Red Cross also began preparing the communities for the risk of waterborne diseases such as dengue that can sometimes arise after significant flooding. “I feel very thankful because the help arrived just when we needed it,” Rodolfo says.
Teresa fears that if this year’s floods are as bad, the communities will not be fully prepared, but at least, through programmes supported by the National Society, IFRC and ECHO, they are aware of the risks and know some of the things they can do to lessen the impact.