25 Aug 2023

Ecuador activates its Early Action Protocol for Floods related to El Niño

In August 2023, the Ecuadorian Red Cross (Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana) activated its Early Action Protocol (EAP) for Floods Related to the El Niño Phenomenon. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will now disburse 114,418 Swiss francs (130,263 US dollars / 120,208 euros) from the Anticipatory Pillar of its Disaster Response Emergency Fund. This will support a series of preagreed early actions, through which the National Society will help 1,000 families (around 5,000 people) cope with the expected impacts of this hazard.

The areas predicted to be worst affected are the provinces of El Oro, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, Santa Elena and Santo Domingo. Early actions will therefore be carried out in these areas from July to November 2023. The actions will vary across this period, but include the following:

  • Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities, including training on the care and protection of water sources and chlorinators, training for volunteers in waste management, (e.g., excreta, sewage), cleaning kits (e.g., to disinfect surfaces) and vector-control measures.
  • General activities, including the dissemination of key messages to the public, risk analysis, monitoring to update intervention maps, and the distribution of humanitarian assistance kits.
  • As further triggers are reached, 300 of the most vulnerable families will receive money through a cash transfer programme. These include families: in areas at very high risk of flooding; with incomes below the minimum living wage; in overcrowded situations; with difficulties accessing water, food and basic services; and with particular vulnerabilities (e.g., the elderly, people with disabilities, families with children under five, single-parent families).

The EAP activation alert sets out when each set of early actions will take place, according to the different triggers (see below).

El Niño can lead to extreme rainfall on the Ecuadorian coast, which causes rivers to overflow and rapid flooding that affects vulnerable communities. The country has faced this hazard in the past; the event in 1997/1998 had an especially severe impact, causing the loss of human lives and extensive damage to housing, public infrastructure and economic activities. The extreme rains also led to higher incidences of disease.

A series of triggers to activate the EAP

The EAP is activated through a series of triggers, each with a different lead time: three months, one month and medium term. The first of these – for which two conditions must be met – was reached in August, leading to the activation.  

  • First condition: a bulletin from the Program for the Regional Study of the El Niño Phenomenon in the Southeast Pacific (ERFEN) confirms the presence of El Niño with a 70 per cent probability, based on information from international agencies. On 15 May 2023, Ecuador’s Secretariat of Risk Management declared a ‘Yellow Alert’ due to the likelihood of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation for the second half of the year, which would affect municipalities at an altitude equal to and lower than 1,500m above sea level; this was based on a forecast from the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI), as well as monthly forecasts from ERFEN.  
  • Second condition: an INAMHI seasonal forecast has probabilities of precipitation occurrence higher than 70 per cent. This condition has also been met, as set out in INAMHI’s Climate Prediction Bulletin, which includes precipitation forecast maps for June to August 2023.

The next trigger, with a lead time of one month, is based on sub-seasonal extreme rainfall forecasts from INAMHI. This trigger will be activated if precipitation probabilities are greater than 70 per cent; this has not yet been reached.  

The third trigger has a medium-term (5-7 days) lead time. This is also based on forecasts of extreme rainfall from INAMHI. The next report will come within the first five days of October and, if the trigger levels are met, it will activate a further set of complementary early actions; these include multipurpose cash assistance to families, the deployment of WASH volunteers and technicians to affected regions, and the activation of community brigades, among others.

The EAP also has a mechanism to stop the planned activities for each trigger; this mechanism is activated if the floods do not occur as forecast, based on monitoring of the event. At this point, the agreed early actions are analysed again and adjusted as necessary.

Thanks to Melanie Ogle (IFRC) and Jennifer Fernandes (German Red Cross) for their support with this article.

Photo © Ecuadorian Red Cross. Note: this is from a different hazard event, not from the current activation.