As many of you are probably aware by now, a 7.8 earthquake rocked Ecuador Saturday evening, buckling overpasses, causing houses to collapse, and knocking out power in Guayaquil, Ecuador's most populous city. As of now there are 300 fatalities and over 2500 injured. These numbers will no doubt rise as search and rescue teams are able to gain further access into some of the hardest hit areas cut off by road closures and landslides.
Waves For Water, at this point, is knownfor being highly experienced in disaster response, earning that credibility by working all of the major disasters over the past seven years - Haiti, Philippines, Japan, Nepal, Indonesia, Mexico, to name a few… and though these things happen in different countries, with a whole range of nuances (political, cultural, religious, etc), one thing always remains - the basic needs of every living human being on the planet: water, food, and shelter.
That said, in response to this calamity, I am taking this opportunity to formally announce that we are launching a full scale clean-water disaster relief initiative. Following our game plan from from similar previous emergency response programs, we are taking a two pronged approach:
1 - Addressing the immediate suffering of quake victims in the hardest hit areas.
2 - Creating a lasting local infrastructure that will work on long-term development and preparedness programs for years to come.
In reference to number 2, so many of the places that these calamities hit are areas that have needed our clean-water programs long before the disaster strikes. But sadly, don’t have the attention from the global community. So as devastating as these event are, the upside (if there is one) is that people who otherwise would never have been be seen, or served, now are receiving help. That's what we do well: reach the unreached. I'm sad that it too often comes at the cost of human life and unimaginable suffering, but it does come, and in the long run the place will strengthen as a result.
All of the disasters we have responded to over the past 7 years, in over 10 countries, are still active for us and have developed into very healthy, locally managed, sustainable initiatives. None of these would be where they are without the first response happening.
We have a good local network already in Ecuador along with our international team arriving in a couple days. We also have good ties into the US DOD (Department of Defense) units stationed there, as we work with similar units in other countries throughout the region. Together, as a unified group, we will be striking into the hardest hit areas areas to implement our portable water filtration systems with primary focus on community centers and IDP camps. Placing the filter systems in higher concentrated populations such as these, we are able to maximize our impact.
Then we will focus on individual households in the coming weeks. The goal is obviously to provide everyone with access to clean water. The road to recovery for Ecuador will be a marathon, not a sprint, so we are looking at both the immediate problem and the pre-existing condition of water-borne disease - and we are ready to go the distance to carefully, and tactically, produce the highest impact and greatest benefit.
One thing I would like to point out is that Ecuador sits comfortably in what we all know to be the 'Ring of Fire', a highly seismically active area. So beyond the support and infrastructure we will provide in this calamity, we are very much looking at this as an opportunity to build a regional team that will be our project leaders in disaster preparedness and response for the future calamities sure to come.
Case in point, our local team in Nepal (that was developed after their quake) is now leading our programs in India, Myanmar, and Thailand. I really believe that this strategy and type of growth is one of the major keys to a successful international development program - people in a certain region who have gone through the program themselves, taking all of their knowledge and expertise, and paying it forward to neighboring countries in need. This is true empowerment, and I expect our efforts in Ecuador to follow this model, and produce same results.
We will be sending live updates from the field, but also please feel free to help us generate some momentum and support by sharing this letter, if you feel so inclined.
Closing thought: These events have a way of polarizing things for everyone involved - bringing to the surface what’s really important and powerfully disappearing what isn’t. No matter how many of these I’ve been through, I'm still reminded that everything, for all of us, is basically fine until it isn’t. Life goes on quite normally for most of us and then boom, things can be forever changed in a matter of seconds. Our impermanence is humbling to say the least.
To quote one of my favorite lines from Jack London - “The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” If nothing else, let this letter be a reminder of that...
On behalf of the entire W4W team, thank you all for your ongoing support an encouragement of our work. It simply doesn’t happen with out you.
Photo Credit - Ethan Lovell
May 31 - 2016Field Update // 1
It’s been just over a month since the earth shook coastal Ecuador to its knees with a massive 7.8 earthquake. The quake was devastating, completely wiping out many of the quaint fishing communitie... read more
It’s been just over a month since the earth shook coastal Ecuador to its knees with a massive 7.8 earthquake. The quake was devastating, completely wiping out many of the quaint fishing communities along the coast. To top it off, roughly one month later, just as people were finding the courage to start sleeping inside again, two more 7-plus Richter-scale quakes shook the same areas within a 24 hr period. The damage this does physically is obvious, but the psychological ramifications are shattering on a whole other level. The constant fear that the ground beneath you and the walls around you might crack and fall at any moment is a highly anxious frequency to be stuck in.
I’ve seen it firsthand in other places we’ve responded, such as Haiti and Nepal. People are scared with acute PTSD that takes years to recover from. I even have it myself from all the years of working in these zones — in Nepal, for example, we had 5-10 quakes a day that were all 5.0 or bigger. You get used to it, but it’s unnerving… and still today when I’m walking in NYC and a subway goes by underneath my feet on the street, my first reaction is it’s a quake. My nervous system is now wired that way and always in defense mode for such an event. But at the end of the day, I get to go home to US and find some sort of peace and stability. I can’t imagine what the residents who don’t get to leave feel like living in a constant state of instability. It is truly a test of the human condition, and though ultimately we will always repair, rebuild, and move on, we will do it bearing the scars of these experiences forever.
From a Waves For Water perspective, I am happy with the progress we have made. This has been a very tough one, mostly due to the geographic predicament of the quake zone. There is a very big area affected by these quakes and access is limited. In Haiti for example the devastation was pretty tightly focused to a few areas. This time it’s spread out over hundreds of miles. So we keep chipping away at it, knowing that we can reach all the areas over time.
I often speak about our program from an empowerment perspective. In my opinion, the “teach a man to fish” metaphor is literally the only approach that should ever be taken in development or aid work — whether it’s disaster related, disease prevention, or long term development-style initiatives. This single notion, if properly implemented is what draws the distinction between a sustainable program and just the distribution of supplies.
Since day one, W4W has put emphasis on the empowerment model for the simple reason that we ultimately want to work ourselves (the foreigners) out of the equation over time. This means spending however long it takes in the beginning phases of a program — in Haiti, for example, I spent 2 straight years there developing our program that is still thriving to this day and entirely operated and managed by Haitians. Because at the end of the day, we are not just installing a well or rain-catchment system, or passing out filters. We are connecting a problem directly with a solution by way of local networks and team building, through intensive education and training, so that these solutions just become new tools for the local players we’ve enlisted to be able to help their communities on their own.
So, here in Ecuador, that is exactly what we’ve done. We have spent the better part of the past month building and cultivating local Ecuadorian teams in each of the hardest hit communities. These are individuals or groups that we’ve identified, enlisted, and empowered through our program are now the clean-water advocates of their communities — implementing water filter systems to families, schools, and tent camps, on a regular basis — with the proper follow up thereafter.
We are just one small organization, but with this approach we can have a very wide reach. And it’s working… so much so that one of our teams went into a new community a few days ago and met with the local leadership, and before our team was able to share who they were and what they were doing the local leader proceeded to tell them that there was a really great organization in the area called Waves For Water that is doing fantastic work providing communities with access to clean water through local networks. As you can imagine, that is the best case scenario — hearing about the very work we are doing and the positive impact it’s having from the most grass roots ground level. It was a nice surprise for our team to then tell those same local leaders that they were in fact W4W and were there to now help their community. To date, our teams throughout the region have implemented 2500+ water filter systems, in over 10 communities, such as:
Esmereldes Cojimes Pedernales Jama Canoa Bahia San Vicente Manta Portoviejo Puerto Cayo
We feel that with the support that came in for this first phase we have really stretched the funds, maximizing the impact, and are laying an incredibly solid and sustainable foundation for the coming months. That said, in order to do this we now need to set our sights on securing new local and international long-term partnerships that can help us scale the program. This is a pretty standard model for us in terms of disaster response programs:
The first phase is very time sensitive and focused on mitigating the immediate suffering due to the earthquake itself (by implementing our water filtration program). Then phase two, which we are embarking on now, is looking more at the long game — designing programs that are self sustaining and cover every aspect of need in each community. This includes rain-water harvesting systems, the installation of new wells and/or bore hole pumps, and filtration systems for every household. This is the comprehensive approach we have taken in virtually all the countries we operate in, around the world.
The hard work has already been done — our presence and the impact it has had throughout the region is undeniable and firmly in place. And we already have the data and testimonials to showcase this. So now, all we need are new partners that can provide the necessary resources to help us scale this already proven model.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this program is a real, viable way forward in the discussion of access to clean water for Ecuador. What’s at stake here is not just giving a family or village access to clean water, but rather an entire region, or state, or even the entire country over time. This is a solvable problem. Period. It just takes a collective consciousness and effort to make it a reality.
Lastly, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some of the players who have helped us get this far down here: Ecuador Earthquake Recovery Fund, The Pamela Anderson Foundation, The Waterbearers, World Ventures, APE, among others… In addition I’d like to throw a special shout out to a couple of our local “boots on the ground” partners that we have been fortunate enough to plug into — Proyecto Amor 7.8 in Puerto Cayo and Alfredo Harmsen and his Sathya Sai School in Bahia. Keep up the good work guys!