Michael N. Greenwald serves as the Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador.
Ecuador is a beautiful country with a varied geography of warm coastal plains, cool central mountains, and Amazon rain forest. The forces that created this landscape, however, are still active today, making the country susceptible to natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods.
Over the past weeks two events have affected the country, causing widespread damage and forcing thousands of people from their homes. Tungurahua volcano, 120 km south of the capital Quito in Tungurahua province, started showing new activity in early January, and on February 7 it erupted. At about the same time, it began to rain almost continuously in much of Ecuador, causing devastating floods in the coastal provinces of Manabi, Guayas and El Oro that took lives, destroyed crops and disrupted people’s livelihoods. In response to a request from the Government of Ecuador, on Feb. 21 U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Linda Jewell declared Ecuador’s coastal flooding a disaster, releasing U.S. Government funds for humanitarian assistance.
The U.S. Government, and U.S. NGOs such as the American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, responded to the flooding with donations of relief supplies to the victims and logistical support to the Ecuadorian government. Over $600,000 of services and supplies, including hygiene kits, plastic sheeting, water and water purification units, mattresses, bedding, mosquito nets and kitchen materials were donated, and an additional $450,000 in grants are in negotiation now.
The American Red Cross, in cooperation with the Ecuadorian Red Cross, has received relief supplies and distributed them to affected families in five provinces. The U.S. humanitarian NGO Samaritan’s Purse is using private funds to build 104 homes to resettle families evacuated from the most dangerous areas on the slopes of Tungurahua, and provided mobile clinics and safe water facilities for flood victims on the coast. Specialists from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been working closely with Ecuadorian government ministries to coordinate damage reports and to allocate relief efforts. The Ecuadorian Minister of the Coast said in a meeting, “USAID and Red Cross were among the first ones in there.”
In addition, over the past years the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador has been helping the Government of Ecuador to prepare for the natural disasters that periodically occur in this country of 12 million people. USAID has helped to improve the human and physical capabilities of Ecuador’s Instituto Geofisico to monitor seismic activity caused by magma moving within the country’s five most active volcanoes. This early warning system allowed thousands of people to evacuate safely before Tungurahua erupted in 2006. The U.S. Military Group of the U.S. Embassy, Quito has funded the construction of two Emergency Operation Centers in Quito and Guayaquil. These EOC buildings were donated to the Civil Defense Department of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Internal and External Security to be used by government officials to coordinate their disaster response efforts. The United States Government will build three more EOCs in the cities of Coca and Cuenca and in the Galapagos Islands. Annual training in disaster response by USAID reaches hundreds of Ecuadorian firemen, Red Cross volunteers, and other first responders every year, for a total of some 7,500 trainees since 1988.
These efforts to assist the Government of Ecuador coordinate its disaster response and to help disaster victims in Ecuador, including disaster preparedness efforts and donations of relief supplies, demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. Government and the American people to help our neighbors in need in the Western Hemisphere.