Tragedy struck Ecuadorians in the form of a 7.8 earthquake that has already left hundreds dead, thousands injured and that will cost millions to repair. It is a moment for solidarity with those whose relatives have died or are disappeared and to reflect on the vulnerability of human life in the face of the unpredictable violence of Mother Nature.
This type of disaster shows the speed with which international help can be distributed. Hundreds of rescue workers have arrived in Ecuador from different parts of the world in a race against time to save the survivors still buried in the rubble of the crumbled buildings. Every time someone is pulled out ‒ as was the case with the little girl in the municipal building in Pedernales, ‒ signifies a victory in the midst of all that pain.
While this is an emergency, it is also valid to evaluate if this level of destruction could have been prevented. Earthquakes are still impossible to predict, but experience has taught us that their impact can be mitigated by preparing both the infrastructure and the population. It does not seem like Ecuador was ready.
In 2014, newspaper El Comercio wrote about geological fault lines and the preventive measures recommended for an earthquake situation. They also pointed out that the provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas, near the epicenter of this earthquake, did not have plans in place to endure a tremor.
Although the port city of Manta, in Manabí, had been experiencing 15 years of widespread development, it did not have evacuation plans in place. The city was planning to reinforce more than half of the houses lacking anti-seismic features or built on low or medium slopes. Ecuador does not have the culture of preparedness against earthquakes prevalent in countries like Chile and Japan. Apparently, the attention was on volcano eruptions.
What happened in Ecuador invites us to reflect on natural disasters and on our impotence in front of them. Each of us knows what hazards exist in our area, whether quakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or others. We must be prepared with all the necessary tools and plans so that, if the day comes ‒ which we hope doesn’t, ‒ it finds us prepared.