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UNHCR emergency airlift to aid Ecuador quake relief

People walk among the debris of a collapsed building in the town of Pedernales, Ecuador, following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake

People walk among the debris of a collapsed building in the town of Pedernales, Ecuador, following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. © EPA/J. Jacome

GENEVA, April 18 (UNHCR) – The UN Refugee Agency is readying preparations for a major aid airlift, expected in the next 48 hours, to help people displaced by the worst earthquake to strike Ecuador in decades. This follows a request for UN help received from the Ecuador Government.

The 7.8 magnitude quake shook the Andean nation’s Pacific Coast on Saturday (April 16), killing at least 350 people and injuring more than 2,000. The powerful tremor ripped apart buildings, tore up roads and knocked out power.

Operational planning has been underway in Copenhagen – UNHCR’s global logistics hub – for a first aircraft bound for Quito. It will carry core relief items including some 900 tents, plastic sheets, 15,000 sleeping mats, kitchen sets and – in view of the Zika virus risk – 18,000 much-needed repellant-impregnated mosquito nets.

These supplies will be distributed from Quito to the worst hit areas as quickly as feasible, and in accordance with priorities being determined locally. The focus will be in the western region, around Manabi, Santo Domingo, Esmeraldas and Guayaquil.

In Ecuador, efforts have been ongoing since Sunday to assess the extent of the damage and determine the needs of people who have been affected. UNHCR has already dispatched emergency stocks from its in-country stockpile by truck to Carchi, Esmeraldas, Manta and Pedernales. These include scores of tents, and plastic sheeting for hundreds of people.

The aim is to provide essential shelter and other aid material over the next days for some 40,000 people – refugees, asylum seekers and locals alike – in earthquake-affected communities.

“It’s a very distressing and urgent situation we are dealing with. As well as hundreds of lives having been lost we’re also seeing many people now rendered homeless, including refugees and asylum seekers,” said Renata Dubini, Director of UNHCR’s Americas Bureau.

Ecuador is the biggest refugee-hosting country in Latin America. Its people have generously welcomed over 200,000 Colombian refugees and others in need of international protection, many of whom had settled in the earthquake-affected areas. UNHCR is committed to helping Ecuador and its people with support for refugee and host community populations.

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