United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said that more than 21,000 people are in need of immediate shelter following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on Saturday night, while the Government has stepped up recovery efforts in conjunction with several UN agencies.
Speaking to reporters from a tarmac in Canoa, a coastal town near the earthquake’s epicentre, Stephen O’Brien, who leads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that, according to the latest assessment, more than 480 people died in central Ecuador – a number which is likely to rise to about 500 – and that hundreds more are still missing, although services for the immediate detection of life have concluded.
“I have seen and spoken to a number of people in a number of communities who have gone through terrible suffering,” he said on a call in to the daily briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. “This is a massive earthquake with devastating consequences to people and buildings, and basic services,” he underscored.
Thousands of people are living outdoors, there are lines for food, and drinking water is needed, as many of the systems have broken, Mr. O’Brien said.
“The Government is very much stepping up with its plans to meet the needs as best as it can, and it’s clear that they have been working extremely hard and urgently,” he said.
Upon his return to New York on Thursday or Friday, Mr. O’Brien said he plans to work with Member States and the international community to allocate resources from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in order to complement and make available the necessary extra resources to support the Government’s recovery programme.
“We at the United Nations certainly in solidarity [with] the people and in support of the Government of Ecuador’s plans and actions to meet the needs of their people,” he emphasized.
Mr. O’Brien noted that the Disaster and Assessment Coordination Team (UNDAC) has been making quick assessments regarding immediate life-saving and also shelter. In addition, UN agencies and other partners, among them the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), are assisting with recovery efforts.
Asked by a reporter whether grant aid should be given to Ecuador, Mr. O’Brien said his focus is on humanitarian and immediate needs, although it is also important to mobilize international resources to help the people of Ecuador.