13 Sep 2023

Anticipatory action ahead of floods in Ecuador: interview with Sabina Ortiz

In August 2023, the Ecuadorian Red Cross activated its Early Action Plan (EAP) for Extreme Rainfall related to the El Niño Phenomenon. Sabina Ortiz, the national risk reduction technician at the Ecuadorian Red Cross, tells us what has been happening since the activation. 

El Niño can cause serious flooding in Ecuador, as has happened in the past. What is the current situation in the country in terms of extreme rainfall and flooding? 

So far, no heavy rainfall has been recorded, with the exception of the emergency in the province of Esmeraldas in June, where heavy rains caused nine rivers to overflow: Súa and Tonchigüe (Atacames canton); Teaone (Esmeraldas canton); Cube, Viche and Blanco (Quinindé canton), Matambal (Muisne canton), Huele and Sucio: in total, this affected seven cantons.  

During August, the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI) issued a weather alert, valid until 1 September 2023, which noted that atmospheric conditions will be favourable for the spread of forest fires in different sectors of the Sierra and specific areas of the coast, due to the dry season. 

However, the Program for the Regional Study of the El Niño Phenomenon, in a weekly meeting on 30 August, analysed the oceanographic and meteorological conditions of El Niño and reported that the sea surface temperature, according to the records of the previous week, remained above the climatological average, with positive anomalies. 

This behaviour is related to the warm El Niño event, which is characterized by weak rainfall in the north and interior of the coastal region, based on the official forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which indicates a 99 per cent probability of El Niño conditions for the current period (August-September-October), with a tendency to increase sea temperature. So, the state of ‘watch’ is being maintained, as well as a declaration of a Yellow Alert by the Secretariat of Risk Management in Ecuador. 

The EAP activation in August released IFRC funding for the first set of early actions. What has the Ecuadorian Red Cross been doing since then? 

As part of the actions implemented in the three-month activation phase, we have been prepositioning humanitarian assistance kits – cleaning materials, safe water, and mosquito nets – in the strategic warehouses of zones 1 and 2. We are also working on the design of key messages for the promotion of the early actions that are planned to be carried out, based on each forecast and activator. 

Institutional work meetings with INAMHI continue, to guarantee information management and data regarding weather forecasts. We are also coordinating with the Ecuadorian Red Cross’ community health team to develop training processes on safe water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as the printing of community-awareness materials. 

And what is your own role in these activities? 

I provide technical support and assessment for the planning and execution of the anticipatory actions established in the EAP, according to each of the triggers: three months, one month and five to seven days. My other tasks include coordination with INAMHI for the analysis and review of information according to the forecasts generated during the El Niño phenomenon, and reporting on the activities for the rollout of anticipatory actions.

Sabina Ortiz National risk reduction technician, Ecuadorian Red Cross

The early actions triggered by this first activation include training in participatory hygiene and sanitary transformation. Can you tell us who has undertaken this training, and how it will help families prepare for the forecast floods? 

Volunteers and technical staff on the provincial boards of the coastal region – El Oro, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santo Domingo and Santa Elena – will participate in training for the development of tools for hygiene behaviour change and the improvement of water and sanitation services in communities, using the methodology known as Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation, or PHAST. 

After the one-month seasonal forecast, this training will be replicated with communities through the training of ‘brigadiers’, as well as the deployment of teams specialized in WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] for the technical evaluation of water, the monitoring of water resources, and the promotion of safe water consumption. These actions will allow each family to strengthen their knowledge and execute [the actions] in case of an emergency associated with the El Niño phenomenon. 

According to the EAP, the next set of early actions will be undertaken depending on the forecasts for sub-seasonal extreme rainfall. Are there any indications of when this might occur? 

Working together with INAMHI is crucial, especially when it comes to information management regarding rainfall forecasts; the initial forecast is issued for the months of August, September and October. 

The information and forecasts for one month and five-to-seven days, potentially between November and December, must be analysed to coordinate actions and decision-making. 

Sabina, many thanks for keeping us up to date with the latest developments! 

Further information about the different triggers (three months, one month, five-to-seven days) can be found in the EAP document

The photos are from an earlier flood event in Ecuador. © Ecuadorian Red Cross 

Thanks to Natalie Acosta for conducting and translating this interview.

La versión en español de esta entrevista está disponible aquí.