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Ecuador’s active Tungurahua volcano continues to affect nearby communities

© UNICEF Ecuador/2007/Boezio
Displaced children from the Cúsua community near Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano are now living at the shelter in the nearby town of Pingue.

By Geraldine Boezio

QUITO, Ecuador, 20 March 2007 – The Tungurahua volcano in the central Ecuadorian Andes erupted again earlier this month, making worse the already vulnerable situation of the nearby population.

In mid-2006, an increase in volcanic activity caused damage in three Ecuadorian provinces. Together with government institutions, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies are evaluating the impact, as well as the needs of the population, in order to provide assistance.

A UN Inter-Agency Emergency Team – with members from the World Food Programme, the Pan-American Health Organization and UNICEF – arrived in the Tungurahua area and found that ash from the volcano had affected people in the region who depend on agriculture as their sole source of income. 

Needs of the displaced

The UN team found that only shelter in the town of Pingue, located near the volcano, opened eight months ago and provides housing to 38 families (almost 160 people) displaced from the village of Cúsua. Three rooms in the shelter are used as an elementary school, which 46 children currently attend.

Since the Pingue shelter is full to capacity, the rest of the displaced people have moved in with friends or rented homes.

The team also found that the Cúsua population needs agricultural production credits for lost crops, food and health assistance, as well as help with relocation in some cases. The main health needs are masks to protect against breathing in the ash, antihistamines, serum and eye drops.

After a meeting with area mayors and visits to the affected areas, the UN mission concluded that – even though this latest eruption does not constitute an emergency on the scale of the one that occurred last July and August – it is important to intervene quickly.

The team identified needs for local development programmes in agriculture, water and sanitation, public health, housing and the psychosocial recovery of children and teenagers.

© UNICEF Ecuador/2007/Boezio
Volcanic ash in the fields and on the roofs of the Pillate area near Tungurahua.

Teen recovers from injuries

When Tungurahua last erupted in August, a 16-year-old boy named Frank became a hero in Ecuador overnight. When his home in a town at the base of the volcano unexpectedly filled with burning ash in the middle of the night, he pulled his grandmother from the house despite suffering terrible burns himself.

Unfortunately, Frank’s grandmother did not survive the burns she suffered, but he was treated in a nearby hospital and eventually brought to Miami, Florida in the United States for treatment. He eventually recovered over a four-month period.

Now Frank is in good health and back attending high school in his community, though he has not been able to return to his former home. “Our house was destroyed and we have not been able to rebuild,” he said in an interview last week.

Ongoing dangers

“It is very important that we take the threat of the Tungurahua volcano seriously,” Frank continued. “Children are at the greatest risk when the volcano is active, as they are delicate organisms and therefore vulnerable.”

Now, as the volcano returns to slumber, it is still urgent to maintain a sufficient number of shelters in good condition to provide for the population should the volcano resume activity – which could at any time be as extreme as it was last summer. Road passage is also an unpredictable danger right now, while everything is covered in ash, since rain may move the ash deposits and cause landslides and avalanches.

Because eruption of the Tungurahua volcano is an ongoing risk, permanent humanitarian assistance is needed.

Blue Chevigny contributed to this story from New York.



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