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Thousands remain displaced by Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano

© UNICEF Ecuador/2006/Estévez
UNICEF Ecuador staff member helps children in the volcano zone put on child-sized face masks to protect them from dust and ash.

By Anna Vives

QUITO, Ecuador, August 25, 2006 – Ecuador’s active Tungurahua volcano had its biggest eruption yet last week, leading to the displacement of thousands of children and families who now remain homeless and in need of humanitarian assistance.

The eruption affected six provinces: Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Bolivar, Los Rios, Guayas and Manabi. A high number of explosions were registered, accompanied by volcanic tremors and gas and ash emissions that continued for 36 hours. Pyroclastic flows and other volcanic material destroyed roads, houses, infrastructure, crops and pastureland.

The Tungurahua volcano, located in central Ecuador, is surrounded by many small villages whose residents depend on cattle and crops for their livelihood. When massive clouds of ash started covering these communities, people began fleeing the area with their belongings strapped to their backs and their livestock trailing behind.

© UNICEF Ecuador/2006/Estévez
Children take refuge in an area away from the volcano. UNICEF is providing them with psychosocial support.

Taking refuge in shelters

Some 19,000 people were evacuated to shelters set up mainly in schools and sports arenas. Today, 11 temporary shelters are distributed across two of the worst-affected provinces, Tungurahua and Chimborazo.

An estimated 4,750 people – including about 2,000 children – are living in these shelters. Many others have found refuge in the homes of relatives or friends. Four people have been reported dead and six are missing.

Health units in the region have been treating approximately 90 people per day for volcano-related respiratory infections, conjunctivitis, dermatitis and gastrointestinal problems.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, about 23,000 hectares of crops have been lost due to the massive ash fall. Since the time to plant crops is approaching, there is concern that farmers will have a poor harvest next year. Their cattle are also experiencing serious health problems, some leading to death, from grazing in ash-covered pastures.

© UNICEF Ecuador/2006/Estévez
The Tungurahua volcano's eruption left the surrounding countryside covered with pyroclastic material and ash.

Safe spaces for children

UNICEF took immediate action in response to the crisis, setting up three operation centres in the communities of Penipe, Riobamba and Pelileo.

Two-hundred volunteers are being trained to provide psychosocial assistance for children in the temporary shelters and affected villages. The shelters are being equipped with educational materials, as well as games and toys, to provide safe spaces where children can cope with the traumatic experiences they have endured.

The UN system is also assisting the Government of Ecuador with an assessment and listing of needs to be presented in an international appeal for aid.

Seismic activity at Tungurahua has been low for the past week. According to the National Geophysical Institute of Ecuador, however, the threat of further eruptions remains high and the volcano is being kept under strict surveillance.




25 August 2006:
UNICEF Ecuador’s Cecilia Davila gives a full account of the evacuation of villagers near the Tungurahua volcano and how this has affected children.
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