On March 18, 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador shook the coastal city of Machala, killing at least 15 people and injuring nearly 460 others. The death toll is expected to continue to rise with search and rescue efforts underway. The earthquake in Ecuador destroyed homes and buildings along the coastline and had an impact as far as the Ecuadorian highlands and some areas of Peru.
Ecuador’s Risk of Natural Disasters
Ecuador is located on the west coast of the South American continent with Colombia neighboring to the north and Peru to the south. Though the country is prone to many natural disasters, the top three most common natural disasters are earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions. According to the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal, between 1980 and 2020, Ecuador saw an average of 12 earthquakes per year.
The U.K. government’s advice on foreign travel indicates that Ecuador’s propensity for earthquakes is due to its location in an area of extreme seismic activity. The advice states, “Seismologists assess the risk of earthquakes in the province of Esmeraldas on the north-western coast as particularly high because of its proximity to the convergence of the Nazca and South American plates.”
Recent Earthquake Impact on a Struggling Economy
The recent earthquake in Ecuador originated off the Pacific Coast about 50 miles south of Guayaquil, the country’s second-largest city and is the most destructive since the devastating earthquake in April 2016. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), after striking Ecuador’s northern coast, the 2016 earthquake left reconstruction costs estimated at almost 3% of the GDP.
The nation does not quickly recover from the loss of livelihoods and infrastructure due to the struggling Ecuadorian economy and high poverty rates. According to a World Bank 2020 report, in 2019, about a quarter of the population lived under the national poverty line, equal to more than 4 million people, due to rising unemployment rates and a 2% real labor income decrease for the second consecutive year.
The WFP reports that 40% of Ecuador’s rural population now lives below the poverty line. While Ecuador has seen some growth in its GDP due to a decline in poverty through investments in health, education, infrastructure and social policies, plummeting oil prices and other factors are driving an economic decline.
A struggling economy and devastating natural disasters make it difficult for a country to flourish. For this reason, initiatives like the GlobalGiving’s Ecuador and Peru Earthquake Relief Fund are crucial to building up developing nations. GlobalGiving is a nonprofit whose mission is to connect various nonprofit organizations to donors and companies. The organization states that “All donations to this fund will support relief and recovery efforts in Ecuador and Peru. Initially, the fund helps first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, medicine and shelter.” GlobalGiving states further, “As needs emerge, we will support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations in the impacted areas.” The goal is to raise $500,000 to support relief for the earthquake in Ecuador and Peru.
After President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency, Ecuador’s Ministry of Economy and Finance announced that it will provide financial resources so the government can assist citizens impacted by the devastation of the earthquake. President Lasso has toured the impacted areas and has committed to mobilizing teams to provide needed support. In addition, the government announced in March 2023 the creation of a housing lease program to temporarily house families who lost their homes during the earthquake.
With government assistance and nonprofit support, there is hope that impacted families will find relief. The Ecuadorian government’s efforts in terms of addressing poverty and establishing disaster resilience are essential to minimize the impact of future natural disasters.
– Stella Tirone