Ecuador struggles to rebuild as death toll rises

Ecuador was rocked by a massive 7.8 earthquake on Saturday that killed people and left miles and miles of destruction. The country was subsequently struck by a series of aftershock quakes, one of which reached 6.0 on the Richter scale.

As the rescue and clean up efforts progressed, the death count increased. It has now surpassed 587 and is likely to get worse. The government is facing a reconstruction project that will undoubtedly cost billions of dollars. This is especially daunting given that Ecuador was already facing a period of economic downturn after a global drop in oil prices.

“I know we’re at the most-difficult stage right now but it’s just the beginning,” said President Rafael Correa.

Correa announced measures on Wednesday that will be put in place for at least the next year to help pay for reconstruction. Sales taxes will be raised from 12 percent to 14 percent. Citizens with more than $1 million in assets will be charged a one-time levy of 0.9 percent of their wealth. Workers earning over $1,000 a month will be taxed a days wages and those earning $5,000 per month will be taxed the equivalent of five days’ pay. This will be on top of $600 million in emergency funds from the World Bank and other such lenders.

In addition to the casualties, 163 people are still missing and more than 23,500 have been left homeless. At least 119 schools have been damaged, 800 buildings have been destroyed and two hospitals have completely collapsed.

There is a danger of further deaths not directly caused by the quake. More than 150,000 children have been effected by the damage caused by the quake. The compromised water and sanitation systems has placed these kids that were already vulnerable at an even higher risk of contracting diseases such as Zika, dengue, malaria and chikungunya.

NGOs, including UNICEF, have swooped in to help with rescue and clean up efforts. Officials from these NGOs have indicated the damage is so bad in some places that entire villages may have to relocate and start over from scratch.

“There are one or two locations where the government’s contemplating relocating towns … because of the level of destruction,” said a UNICEF representative.

The response effort to the quake is still largely in the preliminary stage of searching for survivors trapped by the rubble.

“We’re still going strong, and everybody is, in terms of search and rescue,” said Nicolas Verdy of the Canadian Red Cross. “We have full teams going through the rubble, being helped by the military, by the government.”

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