The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16th caused an estimated $3 billion in infrastructure damage as it devastated a nation that had not felt the effects of such a natural disaster since 1949. Within hours, various nations provided support . Colombia and Peru sent military planes and naval vessels with humanitarian aid, and Mexico sent specialized rescue workers. The United States, among other things, installed a mobile air traffic control tower in Manta. Other help came from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, France, and Spain, and countries like South Korea, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands announced that they would be sending funds to help with the Ecuadorian emergency.
But the challenge of delivering aid is far from over. Numerous institutions are assessing long-term requirements for shelter and how to solve imminent challenges in the country's hardest-hit areas. Ecuador will need assistance from aid agencies and neighboring countries for a considerable amount of time.
While Ecuadorean engineering experts continue to determine if the buildings that are still standing are structurally sound, the Ecuadorean military has deployed more than 10,000 of its personnel to oversee the ongoing aid delivery efforts in the field, providing pivotal assistance to the current humanitarian crisis the country faces.
Lieutenant Colonel Cristhian Regalado works in the Central Command of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces and has been following the ongoing process of humanitarian aid. He shared his thoughts with Diálogo on the current challenges facing the Armed Forces as they respond to the country's deadliest earthquake in decades.
Diálogo: How has international cooperation helped in the assisting victims, and what kind of help came from abroad?
Lt. Col. Regalado: International aid was immediate and timely, with huge amounts of food, food supplies, medicine, as well as specialized personnel, especially rescue workers, doctors, technicians, and firefighters [being delivered]. In addition, several countries provided aircraft to join the airlift, as well as mobile hospitals, electricity-generating plants, and water purification. Brotherhood among people, especially nations in the continent, was reflected in the aid received. The military is grateful for these gestures of solidarity and generosity. This cooperation among nations and military entities has been traditional in the region on the basis of bilateral and multilateral agreements that have enabled mutual support during times of natural disasters such as the one Ecuador experienced on April 16th.
Diálogo: Tell us about the aid delivery process and the type of aid is being provided by the Ecuadorean Army to the affected population.
Lt. Col. Regalado: Army airplanes and helicopters are working nonstop to transport the wounded, the homeless, and the staff members of public and private institutions that have been mobilized to support the disaster areas, and also to move donations from collection centers to people in remote areas. Command posts located mainly in Manabí and Esmeraldas are coordinating the activities of military units from all over the country in support of state institutions, and are managing the collection and delivery of donations, implementing shelters and logistics [by land and air], installing sanitary facilities and using tankers to supply water, just to name a few of the endless tasks. They also coordinate military support to the National Police to ensure the safety of the cities affected by the earthquake.
Diálogo: Describe the deployment.
Lt. Col. Regalado: Just one part of the overall effort is conducted by the Corps of Army Engineers, who have deployed all its heavy machinery for the removal of debris, road maintenance, construction of platforms, demolition of structures, and the inspection of roads and bridges. This is all coordinated by an extensive team of technical specialists. The Army Engineers also installed three water treatment plants in the affected areas that are being operated by military personnel. In addition, we have soldiers of the elite Special Forces Brigade to provide security for the food convoys to the disaster areas, as well as through specialist K9 search teams to assist in the rescue of people trapped in the rubble. We have deployed a contingent of military doctors and nurses who are providing medical care to the residents of the affected areas, and are also making the delivery of medicine to the population. In addition, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital moved to Chone – a city in the Manabí province – a strategic location from which immediate trauma care can be provided.
Diálogo: What are the Army’s medium- and long-term plans?
Lt. Col. Regalado: After the search and rescue phase, reconstruction will begin, a task that involves the coordinated participation of many state institutions and where we also have the support of national and international organizations. The deployment of the Armed Forces is indefinite: We are here to support our homeland for as long as it takes.