A year after the Ecuador earthquake, we still have work to do | Nury Bermúdez
17 Apr 2017
It only took 40 seconds to unleash decades of pent up vulnerability in Ecuador.
Substandard buildings, additional stories built unofficially, shoddy building materials—they all took their toll on 16 April 2016. With 671 deaths and over 241,000 people affected, it was unquestionably one of Ecuador’s biggest emergencies in decades.
The country’s emergency response capabilities were overwhelmed, making clear the need to strengthen preparedness, prevention and recovery for dealing with large-scale adverse events. In the face of this situation, a national and international solidarity network activated to provide aid and relief during the emergency.
Government agencies responded on multiple fronts in regions needing immediate aid. Different protocols and mechanisms were created and put to the test during the emergency. Local governments set up temporary operations since many lost their facilities and were also affected. Civil society organizations were also on the ground in different areas, coordinating, managing and supporting those most in need.
The humanitarian mandate to provide people with comprehensive care was fulfilled thanks to contributions and accumulated knowledge, where cooperation agencies played an important role and the Country Humanitarian Team was a hub of action that supplemented the Ecuadorian government’s efforts.
UNDP aided the government on several fronts. In the post-disaster needs assessment, a group of sector specialists worked with Ecuador’s Planning and Development Ministry to assess the earthquake’s impact. Other UNDP technical teams used their knowledge and experience on issues including rubble removal, coordination of complex emergencies and other social and environmental issues.
Together with the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, we launched a rapid assessment of structures, training 594 volunteers who assessed 35,801 buildings in Esmeraldas and Manabí, with the goal of protecting people’s physical safety from aftershocks or new earthquakes.
Recovery and reconstruction started almost at the same time as emergency relief efforts, which meant a steep learning curve for all involved. Government programmes were put into place to get local systems up and running again. We threw our efforts into designing interventions to support the recovery of stores, associations and businesses.
One year after the earthquake, we have helped 2,678 families revive their farming activities in rural areas of Manabí and Esmeraldas. With technical assistance, training and repairs, their sales increased 50 percent on average. This support also helped 1,700 business owners in the city of Manta to relocate. In Manabí province, 470 families revitalized their businesses, of which 64 percent are owned by women.
UNDP also helped improving knowledge and application of Ecuador’s Construction Standards, producing a series of practical design and construction guides, training materials and minimum requirement checklists. Across the country, a total of 7,879 people completed the training.
Even with all these efforts, a year after the earthquake, there is still work to do, especially with regard to reducing vulnerability and the underlying factors that build up risk. We must work on reducing the physical and structural vulnerability of buildings, not only in the affected regions, but in the entire country.
Needs include changing construction practices, creating greater awareness of construction procedures, improving the use of materials and techniques, reinforcing existing buildings and structures, and conducting campaigns raising awareness among the entire population.
We have to work on reducing intangible vulnerability by improving the governance of risk, both locally and nationally. We must have clear, standardized procedures among different actors and levels. Reducing poverty and inequity, and increasing access to good quality basic services, education and health care also lead to disaster risk reduction.
Risks are social constructs, and from this perspective are closely linked to development agendas and models. They therefore should be tied to the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets.
We know that Ecuador is in the Pacific Ring of Fire and that new earthquakes will occur in the country. Not only should we be prepared to respond to them, but we must also work to keep them from turning into disasters by strengthening knowledge, improving practices and developing a cross-cutting risk reduction agenda.
Risk reduction is everyone’s job.