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From a Mobile Clinic near Esmeraldas in March 2016 before the earthquake.
Saturday April 16, 2016 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the central coast of Ecuador near Muisne. Over 400 people have been killed and more than 2,500 people are injured or missing as of Tuesday the 19th, these numbers are expected to rise. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that it was the greatest tragedy to hit the country since the 1949 earthquake in Ambato, and that the reconstruction will cost billions.
Collapsed building, from this pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
This video taken on a security cam gives some idea of the intensity of the earthquake. In the main areas affected, such as Guayas, Esmeraldas and Manabi, infrastructure was devastated. According to the government, at least 370 buildings have been counted as destroyed. In the town of Pedernales, near the epicenter 80% of the town’s infrastructure was demolished. Soldiers and police have begun to patrol the area in an effort to prevent looting. Many people are homeless and the police have begun setting up shelters. A soccer stadium in Perdernales has been turned into a relief centre and morgue.
Engineer Enrique Garcia told the BBC that the Ecuadorian infrastructure was not prepared for such a disaster. The municipalities did not follow regulations to make sure that buildings were constructed with materials that could withstand a disaster, and thus many collapsed during the earthquake.
From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
All six coastal provinces are in a state of emergency. However, the quake was felt all over Ecuador, Quito lost power and several bridges collapsed in Guayaquil. Atacames, Muisne and Esmeraldas were evacuated, but there was no sign of a tsunami. The tremors were felt as far away as Cali, Colombia, where a clinic was evacuated.
From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
10,000 Ecuadorian military troops and 3500 police officers were deployed to assist in rescue operations. Foreign aid has begun to pour in, the Red Cross sent over 1000 volunteers, and Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru have sent manpower.
A devastated road, from this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
Authorities told the AP that landslides, crumbling bridges and roads were making it very hard to reach the hardest hit. The hard to access rural communities that MEDLIFE works in are likely yet to be counted in the roundup of damage and casualties. In places like Carlos Concha and Tabiazo, the nearest hospital was a two hour bus ride from the town center on precarious roads, along with hours of hiking and a swim across the river for the majority of habitants who live in the dispersed settlements that have no road access.
A tienda in Pumpula, next to where the bus was parked for a March Mobile Clinic, sunken into the earth.
MEDLIFE has worked extensively in the rural communities around Esmeraldas and Atacames for years, both regions were hit very hard by the earthquake. MEDLIFE is not equipped for disaster relief, but we are using our fundraising capabilities to aid in the cause. Director of MEDprograms Ecuador Martha Chicaiza is in Riobamba collecting donations to send to affected areas. She said that travel by land is extremely difficult, many roads in the area were destroyed.
If Ecuadorian infrastructure as a whole was poorly suited to withstand an earthquake, many of the homes in the communities we work in are extremely poorly prepared. Martha has heard from communuty leaders that many homes have collapsed in Pumpula and Chinca, both communities where MEDLIFE held Mobile Clinics in March 2016.
Given the widespread destruction caused to the concrete buildings in the town centers, it is hard to imagine that elevated wooden houses like those in the photos below are still standing. All photos below are from a MEDLIFE trip to Esmeraldas in March:
This contruction style is common in the poorest rural communities near Esmeraldas. The houses are elevated to save them from seasonal flooding.
Martha is preparing emergency kits to send immediately to affected areas. We are collecting donations to put towards emergency relief here. Please donate now and send help to the victims of this terrible disaster.
The supplies to prepare emergency ration kits
A finished kit, ready to be send to the disaster zone.
Sources and further reading:
In Febuary 2016 MEDLIFE gave an educational workshop in Talleres Artisenales, a new community for MEDLIFE, located in Pamplona Alta. Year-long interns and local medical staff worked together to give the workshop. Topics included family planning, the importance of regular exams for breast and cervical cancer, what support exists for people in abusive relationships, as well as nutrition and diabetetes prevention. Many women there had never had a breast exam or pap smear, and were encouraged to come to the mobile clinic MEDLIFE will be holding in that community and see a doctor. Local medical staff explained realistic food substitutions people good make to have a healthier diet and reduce diabetes risk, for example, swapping soda for fruit juice without artificial sugars. Educational workshops are a great way to build awareness, organization, and trust within a community before moving onto bigger projects like staircases and mobile clinics!
A child brings a gift for the MEDLIFErs at the meeting.
Former media intern Daniela Martes, along with mobile clinic volunteers from Cusco and Lima, donated toys to the Wawawasi in Union Santa Fe. We delivered them to the Wawawasi in early Febuary 2016. The donations were received with smiles when we delivered them and are sure to keep the generations of children who will pass through the Wawawasi happily playing.
The Union Santa Fe Wawawasi
The children receiving their toys.
"Welcome to the cradle of brilliant futures."
MEDLIFE completed our first round of fuel efficient stove projects in Yuncaypata during the Winter Mobile Clinic season. Over the span of two week-long volunteer trips 18 kitchens were renovated. The results were amazing. Most of the people in Yuncaypata used wood burning stoves to cook, basically just a firepit, and do not have chimneys. The effects of the exposure to that much wood-smoke are extremely harmful to health, causing respiritatory and cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks, lung cancer and strokes. Prolonged exposure, which is what you get when you cook over a wood stove every day, can also cause cataracs, which are typically untreated in these communities and lead to impaired vision. The physical labor of collecting wood and cooking over an ineffecient wood stove is also very time consuming. MEDLIFE's fuel efficient stoves funnel smoke out of the home, use much less wood and cook faster.
Light beams illuminate smoke as it fills the home of somone cooking with a traditional wood stove.
A window so stained with smoke you cannot see through it, imagine what this did to this home owners lungs.
Volunteers begin working in a home while the owner cooks for her children. The smoke made them cough after a couple of minutes.
Before the kitchen was renovated by MEDLIFE. The smoke stained windows and lightbulbs cast a yellow glow over everything.
The same kitchen after MEDLIFE renovated it, with the new stove in the corner and clear white light.
A kitchen part way through construction.
The base that is heated by the fire holds heat extremely well, and is made of a mixture of materials that can be collected in the community; human hair, sugar, salt, beer bottles, and adobe.
The mixture being packed into the stove frame.
Cooking on a new fuel efficient stove. She said that the new stove saves her hours of time per day.
A chimney pumps smoke out of the house.
From the MEDLIFE office in Riobamba, Ecuador, we took a taxi to the bus station and a 1-hour bus to Columbe, another city near Riobamba, where MEDLIFE has held several mobile clinics and projects. We then spent 30 minutes on a truck to Llinllin, a community within Columbe that is so large, a community member says it had to be divided into several "llinllins”, Llinllin Colegio, Llinllín Las Juntas, Lllinllin Hierba Buena.
“Llinllin is so big that it should be converted into a parroquia (district) instead of being part of Columbe" said the truck driver. “So many little Lllinllins communities confuses people, when actually all of the Llinllin communities are different."
Once we got to the outskirt of Llinllin, we saw the huge wall MEDLIFE built for the local school, thanks to the donations from our chapter at the University of Brown. After 20 more minutes driving, we finally got to the community of Llinllin Pucara.
Llinllín Pucara is home to just over 500 residents, most of whom have only completed their basic studies. In Llinllin Pucara, you find yourself surrounded by vast valleys and rivers making for a priceless view. At every corner, Llinllin Pucara's landscapes are breathtaking.
The community, as we said before, is one of many "llinllins”. Although these network of small communities are a bit far away from each other, they often work together, especially when it comes to sharing resources.
One of the largest schools in the area is located in Llinllín Colegio where hundreds of students study. About a 20 minute drive away, in Llinllín Pucara, a smaller and humbler school is located, where just over 100 students fill their classrooms. The students that attend Llinllin Pucara live in remote communities and cannot make the trip to Llinllín Colegio, which takes over 1 hour each way.
Pedro Yacosa, president of Llinllín Pucara, talked with us about how a new road allowing car access to their community has helped their local economy grow. "The main economic activity here is raising cattle, especially the production of milk and cheeses. There are still some families who grow corn and potatoes, but the production of milk and cheese is something that everyone here in Pucara Llinllín is proud of. Now with the new road, we are already selling our products in larger cities, and some large companies are purchasing our products to resell," he says.
Though these new and accessible roads provide safer access to community members' homes, using these roads to reach the local school from the Llinlin Pucara town takes 40 minutes to an hour of walking.
Located about 400 meters above the new road, lies an old path that is still being used by many community members to save time. This old path shortens the commute to only 15-20 minutes. This old path, however, is quite dangerous, especially due to the poor conditions caused by Llinlin’s unpredictable climate and daily rain showers. Despite these dangers, many community members still opt to use this path to save them time. This leads to daily accidents due to mud and stone slides.
"This path is very important for us because it saves us a lot of time to get to the road and to the school from our town. Everyday we use this path and we cannot use it anymore in its current condition. We need to build a staircase to replace this path, a staircase that is safe and allows us to access the path without fear of falling down", says Pedro.
As we walked along this old path, we found ourselves slipping and nearly falling many times. Laughter from children also using the path surrounded us, as they watched us struggle. These children were much more experienced in using this path and knew how to navigate it with much more grace than we did.
MEDLIFE is planning to build a large staircase along this path to help support this community. This staircase will be made during several mobile clinics in Riobamba. In addition, we will be building a hygiene project in the local school in Llinllin Pucara at the foot of the future stairs. Together with the community, MEDLIFE hopes to achieve its goal of giving the Llinllin Pucara community an improved quality of life and greater security for all.