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News > Latin America

The Next Phase: Life in Refuge After the Ecuador Earthquake

  • Dozens of tents, organized neatly into rows, fill what was once the landing strip of the Reales Tamarindos airport in Portoviejo.

    Dozens of tents, organized neatly into rows, fill what was once the landing strip of the Reales Tamarindos airport in Portoviejo. | Photo: teleSUR

Published 26 April 2016

Camps are being set up specifically designed to provide dignified housing.

With the worst behind them, Ecuadoreans are now thinking about what lies ahead. Although there are still people staying in improvised camps inside the hardest hit cities, some of those who lost their homes in the 7.8 earthquake are now being relocated into semi-permanent refuges.

The Ecuadorean government estimates it will take years and billions of dollars to recover from the devastation, so it is important that people feel as comfortable as possible as reconstruction efforts continue. These camps are being set up with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and are specifically designed to provide dignified housing.

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One such camp is found in the old airport grounds in the city of Portoviejo, a city that suffered such devastating losses that officials estimate that most of the city center will need to be rebuilt.

Dozens of tents, organized neatly into rows, fill what was once the landing strip of the Reales Tamarindos airport. Volunteers can be heard calling out for vehicles to be moved so new tents can be erected. Each one houses two families, or approximately 10 people.

For all intents and purposes, this camp is now a village and residents say they are satisfied with the services and attention being provided.

“The natural disaster produced a very critical situation, but thanks to the country's public institutions, and the foreigners who have joined us in this painful moment, help is arriving, very good help, and we are grateful for that,” Ciro Molina, who is staying at the camp with his family, tells teleSUR.

Dozens of tents, organized neatly into rows, fill what was once the landing strip of the Reales Tamarindos airport in Portoviejo.

Molina says the services available on site are “very good” and has particular praise for the medical care being offered.

“Even the animals are being well cared for!” he says with a small grin.

A few meters away from Molina's tent, UNICEF has its own tent set up to provide activities for the children staying at the camp, there's even programs for kids with special needs.

Carmen Briones is the mother of one such child, she says he has received “good care” and doesn't have any complaints. She says she understands that this is a very tough moment for the country and whenever she finds something she doesn't like she remembers to be patient.

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In addition to the dozens of families, the site bristles with volunteers and aid workers who constantly run back and forth, moving from task to task.

Over at the far end of the camp the full service kitchen is buzzing, it is staffed largely by volunteers but also counts on three international chefs who prepare three meals a day for the approximately 1,600 people on site.

Elvis San Lucas is one of the chefs, he says that his team works hard to try to provide a diverse menu. In the early days after the quake it seemed all there was to eat was canned tuna and rice.

Psychologists from the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, which is providing a lot of the front-line attention to survivors, say that small things, like having a variety of food to eat, helps people cope with the tragedy and overcome their trauma.

Berta Irene Suarez is a volunteer in the kitchen, she explains that people with special dietary needs get meals prepared specifically for them.

She says she is in for the long haul, however long it takes to get people back on their feet, but stresses that “thanks should go to all the volunteers, because this is possible due to the goodness of their hearts.”

Residents say they've been told to expect to stay in this camp for between one and two month as demolition work is done. Those who lived in the most affected areas are being asked to stay away from those areas for health and safety reasons.

After that comes reconstruction, which will present its own challenges.

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“The next step is for the government to help us with low interest loans and to subsidize construction materials so that we can go back and build our houses,” said Molina.

The government of Rafael Correa has already announced they intend to do precisely that, funded through a series of special tax measures.

Molina, like so many others throughout the coast, says he has no intention of abandoning his city. As places like Portoviejo rebuild, Ecuadoreans are being asked to continue to visit the coast and help revitalize the economy.

International tourists are also encouraged to continue to visit the country, especially the affected areas once they are rebuilt.

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