Despite upbeat predictions from some national and local officials, reconstruction from the April 16 earthquake could take many years. This was the assessment Saturday from the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) as it toured several areas near the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude quake.
“The level of destruction is immense,” said Tadateru Konoe, IFRC president. “Rebuilding will be very hard work and it will require a long time to accomplish,” he said. The Red Cross team is in the country to provide reconstruction planning guidance to the government.
Six weeks after the earthquake the human toll is heartbreaking: 663 are dead, 6,274 injured, nine are still missing, and 28,775 live in tent cities or on the streets.
Estimates of property damage range from $3 to $4 billion, although the government says the figures could go higher. Officially, 6,998 buildings have been destroyed but thousands more are seriously damage, many beyond repair. Among the structures that will need to be rebuilt are about 160 schools, 30 hospitals and health clinics, and dozens of government buildings.
During the IFRC team visit to Manta, Pedernales and other hard-hit communities, Konoé talked to dozens of officials of government and private relief organization official. “The destruction must be dealt with on many levels, not just reconstruction of buildings,” he said. He talked about the urgency of reestablishing the tourism and fishing industries to provide employment. “Many people have suffered great losses and it is important to reestablish some degree of normalcy as quickly as possible. Otherwise, there will be an out-migration,” he added.
National census officials say that thousands of residents of the quake zone have left the area. Many of them are living temporarily with relatives in other parts of the country and intend to return if possible, they say. Others, however, may never return. Larger cities, such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca will absorb some of those that have been displaced.
Given the magnitude of destruction, Konoé said the response to the earlthquake had been good. “The first hours and days following a disaster are always very difficult but from what I see and have learned, the response here is impressive.”
He added that the problem is to maintain the “aid stream” weeks, months and years after the event. “The response was excellent at the beginning, when the news of the disaster was fresh,” Konoé said. “The challenge is to keep the assistance coming once the news is off the front pages.”