As the death toll rises and disease fears grow, disaster relief agency ShelterBox is talking to government officials and colleague aid agencies about how, and where, to respond most effectively to shelter needs. A team is visting the worst affected areas.

The shattered coastal towns on the tourist coastal strip of Ecuador look apocalyptic. The community of Pedernales has barely a building left standing, and the city of Esmeraldas has just been shaken again, this time by a 6.2 magnitude quake.

In this part of Ecuador the number of dead has risen day by the day since the seismic nightmare began last Saturday with a 7.8 earthquake. Now officials put the toll at almost 600, and say up to 1,700 people are missing.

With thousands instantly made homeless last Saturday, and many of them still sleeping in the open or in hastily commandeered shelters such as sports stadiums, there are fears of disease. Sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers still search the rubble, and in recent days some people have still been found alive. But the focus now is on providing for survivors in a vast rural area that has damaged roads, little power or fresh water. With at least 4,000 injured, medicines and healthcare are a priority.

And still the ground shakes violently. Thunderstorms and heavy rain also cause landslides where the land is fractured or deforested.

Now a team from the emergency shelter agency ShelterBox is traveling west into the coastal strip, having already held ‘shelter cluster’ meetings with government officials and partner aid agencies in the capital Quito. Reliable data is hard to come by after such chaos, so they will use their experienced eyes to access need, and plan an effective aid program.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Jon Berg says,

We will determine the type and quantity of aid required, and partner with local agencies to distribute to the most vulnerable people.

‘There is not much space in the cities for tents or camps. Some parks and stadiums are already being used for temporary shelter. The rural areas will have more available space, especially around houses, but rubble clearance is expected to take at least a month.’

‘We will need to assess where aid can be stored. Storage may be available to us in Esmeralda and Manabi, which are the worst affected areas. We may be able to use Manta airport, which has a good central location.’

Jon, from the UK, and his Response Volunteer colleague Kara Lapso from the US, will probably sleep outdoors in secure compounds. With regular aftershocks, they will rest in ‘go mode’ – fully clothed and ready to go with back-packs prepared. They will continually monitor seismic activity and weather reports, and be aware of landslide risks.

Rotarians in Ecuador – ShelterBox’s international Project Partners – may be able to offer logistical support, manpower, and local knowledge.

ShelterBox has a range of aid at its disposal. The traditional green ShelterBox contains a durable family dome tent, blankets and groundsheets for warmth, and essentials such as cooking utensils, water purification and mosquito nets. Shelter Kits contain tools and waterproofing to help repair damaged buildings. ShelterBox can also call on bulk deliveries of specific items, including tents, and solar lighting – vital where power supplies are down.

Jon says, ‘With zika, malaria and dengue of high concern, we will be taking anti-mosquito precautions.’

We want to supply survivors with the right tools to enhance their ability to recover. We have quantities of aid pre-positioned in Panama, Bolivia and Colombia, but we need to make a workable plan with our partners and Ecuadorian agencies to ensure we reach the right people in the right places with the right aid items. This is a vital stage, so going to the epicentre zone to see for ourselves will be time well spent.