Communities rally to rebuild their homes and livelihoods and cope with loss
Nearly a month after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador, destroying homes and communities, families are still processing the trauma they suffered. They are also seeking safer ground—there are now 50 makeshift shelters, each housing hundreds of people in the province of Esmeraldas, with new people arriving daily in the hopes of finding a secure place to stay and sleep. Many Ecuadorians fear the worst is yet to come, believing that a tsunami may be next.
Nora Macias, a widow with five children, remembers clearly the day the earthquake struck. She was in her kitchen washing dishes, when her dogs started barking for no apparent reason. She then heard a loud noise, and within seconds, the earth begin to shake underneath her.
“I grabbed my baby and ran out of the house,” Nora said. “I screamed with all of my might, calling the rest of my children. Thank God we are all safe. Now we live in a hostel that is serving as a makeshift shelter. The heat and humidity here are suffocating. About 500 people are staying here, huddled on mattresses on the floor under black plastic tarps that only increase the heat during the day.”
An estimated 9,500 people have been displaced in Esmeraldas since the earthquake struck on April 16th. It is the country’s second-most affected province after Manabi, which is receiving significantly more government assistance. Heat, lack of clean water, food shortages, overcrowding, and recurrent mosquito bites cause extremely difficult living conditions. These conditions could easily deteriorate further, introducting serious public health problems.
Action Against Hunger mobilized a team of ten experts within 24 hours of the earthquake. After completing initial emergency assessments in Esmeraldas, the team began distributing hygiene kits, water purification filters, and mosquito nets, and setting up safe water points in communities.
In the wake of destruction, there is still hope. Nicol Noel, 16 years old and nine months pregnant, will soon give birth. She currently lives in the Salima hostel: her house was reduced to rubble. She and other new mothers urgently need safe spaces to feed their babies and enjoy a sense of routine and privacy. That’s why Action Against Hunger is assembling “baby tents,” safe, quiet places for mothers and young children to eat, rest, and receive much-needed psychosocial support from our mental health specialists.
Action Against Hunger is setting up baby tents to help new mothers feed and tend to their babies in safety and privacy. Photo: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger, Ecuador.
Beyond providing these immediate interventions, Action Against Hunger experts are also working to help people who lost their source of income in the disaster. In the towns of Bolivar, Daule, and Salima, for example, half of the working population support themselves through shrimp farming. But their boats and equipment were destroyed in the earthquake, reports Maximiliano Verdinelli, Action Against Hunger’s food security specialist in Ecuador. Our team is working to help shrimp farmers recover their livelihood, and we are also developing disaster risk reduction plans to make communities better prepared for future emergencies.
Despite the many challenges they face, the will of the Ecuadorian people is strong. Working in partnership together, Action Against Hunger is committed to helping communities repair, rebuild, and heal.