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Ecuador - Climate

The Ecuadorian landscape is dominated by the Andes Mountains, fertile river valleys, and a large number of volcanoes. Two tectonic plates, the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate, also converge in Ecuador. These geological and hydro-meteorological dynamics make Ecuador susceptible to several types of natural and geological occurrences including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical storms, floods and landslides.

Water resources in Ecuador are abundant but unequally distributed, and key drivers of economic development such as the agriculture and hydropower sectors are water-intensive sectors (irrigation represents 80 percent of consumptive water uses). Climate change is likely to impact water (and energy) production. Changes in rainfall patterns and the occurrence of extreme weather events are likely to increase water stress and affect the water balance, therefore affecting negatively the availability of water for investments in water supply and sanitation, as well as hydropower.

Flooding mainly affects the coastal zone, while volcanic eruptions affect the central zone. Drought has been recorded in the northern coastal and central regions, and frequent landslides affect urban areas and infrastructure. Climate extremes are already the most common type of disasters in Ecuador, adversely affecting the population and the economy of the country. While climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in many regions of the world, Ecuador becomes even more vulnerable to climate change.

On August 14, 2015, the Cotopaxi volcano, about 50km south of Quito and 33km northeast of Latacunga, began erupting after being dormant for 138 years. The 5,897m high volcano released high columns of ash (up to 2km above the crater) which affected Latacunga town and put surrounding densely populated areas at risk (e.g. Quito southern neighborhoods). Since then, the volcano has shown irregular activity and has been very closely monitored, so that an evacuation alert could be immediately given to the populations if necessary. According to the national risk mapping and the analysis from the National Secretariat of Disaster Risk Management (SGR), an estimated 400,000 people (including at least 145,000 in the very high risk areas) and some key infrastructure (including 7 health centers, 133 schools, 41km or roads, 39.5km of electrical infrastructure) would be affected if an eruption triggers explosions, volcanic gases, mudslides, lava flows, lahar and debris avalanches. Potential damages and losses are estimated at US$1.37 billion.

Under a moderate eruption scenario, there is a high probability of lahar, and debris avalanches would damage at least 50 percent of schools, hospitals and prisons in the towns of Latacunga and San Felipe. Data from the National Institute of Geophysics (IG-EPN) confirm that a VEI2-3 level of eruption (the most likely scenario at present) could generate up to 8km-high columns of ash and 30 million m3 of lahar. The level of alert since August 2015 is Yellow, meaning the volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background level, and could be elevated to Orange or Red at any time.

A number of earthquakes has severely impacted the economy with the subsequent consequences in the society as a whole: an earthquake in Esmeraldas on January 31, 1906 with the magnitude 8.8; Ambato in 1949 (M = 6.8); Reventador in 1987 (M = 6.1 and 6.9); and Bahia de Caraquez in 1998 (M = 7.2). The latest major earthquake took place on April 16, 2016 (M = 7.8) with the epicenter located close to Pedernales (Manab) within 20 km of depth. This earthquake and the aftershocks including two major ones on May 18 of magnitude 6.7 and 6.8 caused significant damages and losses.

In Ecuador, the El Nio phenomenon is characterized by a decrease in the intensity of trade winds, high sea surface temperatures along the coast increasing evaporation and cloud formation, and an intertropical equatorial convergence zone. These factors create favorable conditions for heavy rainfall. During an El Nio episode, the coast experiences hot and humid air from the northeast which accentuates precipitation levels. The normal process of cloud displacement to the mountainous area of the Andes is more pronounced, producing unusual rain along the coast.

Heavy rains would affect most of the country, the littoral zone in particular, causing flooding and landslides. During the 1982-83 El Nio episode, the GoE recorded 700,000 people affected, 307 deaths, and estimated economic losses at US$1.43 billion (2015 US$). During the 1997- 98 El Nio episode, increase in sea level reached up to 42cm in some areas, causing significant coastal flooding as well as pluvial flooding, and subsequent drainage challenges: discharges in most coastal rivers were recorded to reach return periods of 100 years.

The development objective of the Risk Mitigation and Emergency Recovery Project for Ecuador is to reduce the potential effects of the El Nino phenomenon and the Cotopaxi volcano, and support the recovery of basic and production services in affected areas in case of an eligible disaster, in selected sectors. The project comprises of three components. The first component, disaster preparedness and risk mitigation aims to reduce the potential impacts of the hazards expected from El Nino and Cotopaxi volcano, according to the emergency preparedness action plan prepared by the Government of Ecuador (GoE).

If tropical glaciers continue to retreat and eventually disappear from certain catchments it will cause changes which will significantly affect the availability of water for human consumption, for hydropower production, mining, and irrigation. The the governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru had already embarked on activities to develop their capacity to adapt to the impact of climate change following the retreat of glaciers in the Andes. Good progress has been achieved overall in the generation of scientific knowledge and capacity strengthening on climate change and glacier monitoring. Climate change scenarios have been generated in Peru and Ecuador, and are being elaborated in Bolivia, and models have been developed to assess impacts on the water and agricultural sectors in selected areas of the participating countries.

In the Ecuador ISN for FY14-15 the first pillar emphasizes "sustainable and inclusive growth" which would not be possible if Ecuador's water supply is not adapted to the effects of climate change. Also, in 2009 Ecuador created the Climate Change Secretariat and in 2010 the Inter-Institutional Committee on Climate Change "to coordinate and enhance the implementation of climate change policy" and in 2012 launched the National Climate Change Strategy which is the basis on which the national climate change plan will be developed.

Five adaptation plans/strategies were prepared with information of the project setting the base for the implementation of adaptation activities. Knowledge generated by the project also informed the National Strategy on Climate Change and the National Plan on Climate Change among others. The plans/strategies included adaptation plans for the Antisana glacier in the Antisana Ecological Reserve.

Development plans for the local governments of Papallacta, Quijos, and Napo captured lessons from pilot activities, leading to adaptation and hence resilience of these plans to climate change. The the perception of the benefits of some adaptation activities implemented in Ecuador has been so positive and immediate (e.g. adaptive cattle management) that replication was already taking place, and it was expected that it will soon influence local and regional policy and investment decision and tools. It was also noted that the activities in Papallacta served as a basis upon which the Environment Ministry is building a larger adaptation program in the area.

In Ecuador the Quito Water Supply and Sanitation Utility (EPMAPS) and the Fondo par la Proteccion del Agua (FONAG) implemented pilot activities to reduce degradation and promote recovery of water from the existing paramo ecosystems to safeguard Quito's water supply. An alternative would have been to look for untapped water catchments in more remote paramo ecosystems involving costly infrastructure to extract additional water for Quito which would need to be compared with a relatively small investment focused on conservation of existing water paramo resources. Such paramo restoration would also generate other benefits including carbon sequestration and enhanced biodiversity protection.

Ecuador is a country where malaria, dengue, cholera, rabies and other tropical diseases are endemic. These diseases are exacerbated by poverty, lack of access to basic water and sanitation services, housing and hygiene, as well as the effects of climate change. There is evidence in Ecuador showing the correlation between changes in weather conditions caused by El Nio and changes in occurrence of infectious diseases, especially for those caused by vectors (e.g. malaria) and those which are waterborne (e.g. cholera). The 1997-98 El Nio brought dire health consequences on the one hand those directly related to climate events that influence health (direct rainfall, increased river flow, mudslides and landslides) and on the other hand those originating from the induced effects of these physical impacts (collapse of drainage or sewage systems, untreated water systems, overcrowded housing, accumulation of garbage, inadequacy of waste disposal systems, increased vector populations due to flooding and problems with accessibility and service delivery).

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