Drought in Ecuador leaves farmers facing financial hardship

Published: 7 August 2013 15:30 CET

By Diego Castellanos, Ecuador Red Cross

After four months of no rain in the south of Ecuador, people in the province of Loja are being dramatically affected by the 72 per cent drop in rainfall. Located on the mountain range on the Peru border, he province is approximately 11,000 square kilometres and has almost 450,000 inhabitants.

In Loja, the economy is purely agricultural and livestock, so the lack of rainfall has caused losses of corn, peanut and bean crops, as well as a shortage of food and foliage for  livestock. In recent weeks, water levels in streams and rivers have dropped dramatically, causing great concern to the people of Loja, who rely on these sources both for human and animal consumption and for crop irrigation.

The provincial board of Loja and the Ecuadorian Red Cross, with the support of National Technical Risk Management, has begun activities in numerous locations, including under-served areas.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross has had permanent offices in the province of Loja since 1957, and currently has 12 branches, 400 volunteers and 50 administrative technicians in the areas of risk management, health, youth, principles and values, planning and blood bank services, clinical laboratory and an orthopaedic bank.

In the six parishes of the bordering province of Zapotillo, most farmers specialize in planting corn. There are about 10,000 hectares of corn, and estimates indicate that 70 per cent was lost. Osman Romero, one of the farmers affected, believes the losses are worth between 600,000 and 700,000 US dollars.

Farmers are now forced to drive their cattle for an hour and a half in order to find places where the livestock can eat and drink. There are ironic signs posted that read: “Stone rivers found here” – a hint at the meagre water supply that can still be found.

Marlon Castillo, a farmer in one of the counties that is most affected, says he planted two acres of corn and this year he has lost everything because of the lack of rain. Farmers are concerned not only about the current lack of rainfall, but also about their debts, which are mounting.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross – as part of a multi-agency response with the National Secretariat for Risk Management and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries – conducted damage assessment and needs analysis. They identified those cantons in which intervention is needed for the most vulnerable communities, namely, Zapotillo, Paltas, Celica and Macara. The assessment identified a total of 1,025 families who have been affected directly.

Based on the initial damage assessment, the needs to be addressed immediately are food delivery kits, safe water storage tanks, home filters, local irrigation system restoration support, training for families, preparation of animal feed, health, hygiene promotion and water treatment. The IFRC will support this intervention through its emergency support Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, in coordination with the Ecuadorian Red Cross.