South America is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to natural disasters. Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela are highly exposed to earthquakes, floods, landslides, droughts, cold waves, and volcanic eruptions. Local capacity to deal with such disasters has significantly improved over the past years, but continues to be limited.
The European Commission's assistance to South America, which is channelled through the Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection – ECHO and implemented by our partner UN Agencies, NGOs and Red Cross, focuses on providing emergency response to natural disasters and to prepare communities for future catastrophes by increasing the resilience and preparedness of the most affected populations and local institutions responsible for disaster management.
The EU immediately responded to the needs of the people affected by the 16 April 2016 earthquake by disbursing 5 million Euros to assist the most vulnerable victims. Besides complementing the government's efforts to address this disaster, our humanitarian partners focused their assistance in difficult-to-access rural and suburban areas through a comprehensive response strategy that initially included support for humanitarian coordination, food aid, water and sanitation. These efforts were complemented by emergency housing, the distribution of water and sanitation facilities, and disaster preparedness and livelihood recovery. In all these areas of intervention and in adherence to ECHO's policies for a quality response, ECHO´s humanitarian response has focused on protecting the most vulnerable groups.
Following the 16 April Earthquake, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was also activated at the request of the Ecuadorian authorities and the United Nations, providing urban search and rescue teams, experts in damage assessment, water, and sanitation. In addition to food, the EU sent equipment such as water purifiers and electric generators, blankets, hygiene and health kits to contribute to the relief efforts. The assistance was generously offered by Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and coordinated by the European Commission Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).
However, humanitarian aid should not only assist the victims of crises once crises occur, but also help reduce the negative impact of disasters through disaster risk reduction. Through the Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO), financed in Ecuador to the amount of 14.5 million Euros since 1996, the EU has helped the most vulnerable populations to improve their capacities to deal with these phenomena.
For 2017-2018, ECHO's Natural Disaster Preparedness Program (DIPECHO) aims to reduce the vulnerability of people at risk by strengthening capacities to respond to natural disasters at a national and local level through the following actions:
- Capacity building in communities;
- Strengthening national and local institutions;
- Inter-institutional coordination at the local, national and regional levels;
- Strengthen knowledge on disaster risk reduction through improved methodologies, guides, and other tools.