24 August 2006

United Nations Aids Ecuador in Wake of Volcanic Eruption

NEW YORK, 23 August, (OCHA) -- The United Nations is assisting the Government of Ecuador to respond to the needs created by the recent eruption of the Tungurahua volcano.

Approximately 19,000 people have been evacuated from the vicinity of Tungurahua, which began erupting in mid-August and has reportedly claimed at least five lives.  An estimated 15,000 people have taken refuge in public shelters.  Preliminary assessments indicate that conditions in the shelters are satisfactory; however, there is a continuing need for dust masks, goggles, jerry cans, emergency medical kits, tents, blankets, clean drinking water, food, kitchens sets and hygiene kits.

In addition to those evacuated, many more people have been directly or indirectly affected by ash falls in the surrounding provinces of Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Bolívar, Los Ríos, Guayas and Manabí.  The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock reports that more than 23,000 hectares of pasture and crops have been destroyed by the massive ash fall.  This farmland will not be recuperated in the short-term and the planting season is approaching.

Responding to the Government's request for international assistance, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is releasing a $30,000 emergency cash grant for immediate relief needs.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing food rations to shelters in Tungurahua and Pastaza provinces, while the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO) carried out a health assessment mission on 18 and 19 August.

Additionally, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has been requested to provide support for the modelling of potential mudflows that can be triggered by high accumulations of ash and other volcanic materials on the volcano's slopes.  According to ISDR, this type of study has been undertaken with great success for the Pichincha volcano, also in Ecuador.  Such modelling is used to identify high-risk areas and support early warning and relief operations.

Tungurahua volcano, located in central Ecuador, began erupting on 16 August, with explosions producing abundant and massive clouds of ash, steam and gas, as well as abundant lava and pyroclastic flows.  Since 20 August, the seismic activity has been decreasing, but, the threat of further activity remains high and the volcano continues to be monitored by the National Geophysical Institute.

For further information, please call:  Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570.  OCHA press releases are available at http://ochaonline.un.org  or www.reliefweb.int .

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