How Permaculture is Helping Ecuador’s Earthquake 6 Weeks on

posted by Gregory Landua on June 2nd, 2016

As many of you know, a huge earthquake hit South America a few weeks ago. Our good friend Gregory Landua, CEO of Terra Genesis International and his team are doing some amazing work to get the Esmeraldas region back on its feet after the disaster. The story and the permaculture techniques used are inspiring and we wanted to share them on our blog. Here's a report from Gregory after a few weeks in Ecuador. Please share this article so we can raise awareness and resources for this cause.
On April 16th an earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. The shockwave crashed into the country, leveling some 8,000 homes, taking the lives of over 600 people and injuring almost 30,000 more. There was an an incredible aid response to the event. The country’s supermarkets were emptied and roads were all but blocked by vans and trucks delivering food and water to those in affected areas. And all within a matter of hours.Ecuador earthquake 2 It was an inspiring reaction to a devastating incident. And, while the immediate human needs were taken care of, getting the local infrastructure up and running in a regenerative way and that allowed for medium-to-long term self-sufficiency was going to be another story entirely...

A regenerative approach, from the ground-up

As is often the case in developing countries, government interference and corruption creates a layer of bureaucratic friction that’s beyond anything we may experience in the West. Long waits and incompetent phone desk agents are the least of our worries here. Not only is the red tape much more tangled in general, but the corruption often acts a black hole for money. Add institutional racism to the mix, and you’ve got a serious bottleneck for desperately needed financial aid. Ecuador earthquake 11It quickly became clear that the most effective way to help people was to focus on smaller, more agile rebuilding solutions using local materials and construction methods. That way, we’re empowering citizens by having them involved in both the development decision-making processes. It also means we can avoid channeling funds through government and “NGO” institutions, not to mention bypass logistics companies who would struggle to make timely deliveries under the circumstances. Creating space for and encouraging locals to step into training and shot-calling positions is crucial. It means we’re giving them tools they can use to take care of themselves, empowering them to work through future earthquakes, too. When you consider that quakes measuring 7 to 8 on the Richter scale have hit Ecuador on average every 10 years for the past 100 years or more, that matters. Armed with the knowledge of what to do is better than relying on corrupt systems or the goodwill of others (inspiring though it is) both of which are factors outside of their control. That considered, it’s easy to see why this approach is so important. It’s not just using regenerative building methods, but is itself an entirely regenerative system.

Basic human needs

The basic human needs human are clear priorities - food, water, shelter and sanitation. To start with, we’re collecting rainwater from the roofs we built with local materials we have on hand. Ecological latrines and composting toilets take care of the sanitation problem, simultaneously starting to build up nutrient-rich compost stores to help with crops later down the line. We knew we needed to quickly connect to the local food coops on arrival and do what we could to stabilize and accelerate production. There’s lot of work to do, and everybody there needs to be properly fueled to put in the man hours to get things back on track. Ecuador earthquake 6 But there was another factor adding a sense of urgency to meeting people’s basic needs. In the past, these kinds of situations have been capitalized upon by wealthy and influential businessman to remove affected people from land so they could use it to their own ends, planting money crops and other such profiteering. By moving quickly to give people what they need and by introducing permaculture methods that empower them with the confidence to dream about successfully rebuilding their devastated land, locals take ownership of their circumstances. When that happens, they’re much less likely to become pawns in the larger game of fat cat politicians and businessmen. And this way, by people-led change, we’re truly turning this disaster into an opportunity for regrowth.

First few weeks at ground zero

We had a tremendous response from people after posting a request for donations on Facebook, securing $5,140 in just a few days. It wasn’t enough to rebuild Ecuador’s coastline, but it was a solid start to work with that’s helped us accomplish a lot so far. TEcuador earthquake 14he first day of arriving in the Esmeraldas region, we were met with mixed signals from the universe. On the one hand, we were going through the TSA pre-check with Stevie Wonder (surely a good sign, right?). While on the other, it looked like our luggage had been lost. Considering the bags were loaded with the power tools we needed to construct bamboo shelters, that was a big problem. Mercifully, the second day our bags arrived and we were on our way to ground zero to get started. First things first; we begin by a connecting with the local food courts of Eco-cacao Ecuador and UOPROCAE to do everything we could to ensure food was covered. Five days later, and a solid plan began to emerge. Some days after that, and buildings began to transform from paper sketches into real constructions that handle basic needs to humans, simultaneously cultivating hope and enthusiasm for more progress to follow. Ecuador earthquake 15 Right now, we have six weeks left for the initial phases to continue working on composting toilets for those in need, and hope to also move towards setting up grey water filtration, purification and sanitation projects. After that, it’s time to turn our attention to rebuilding more homes, many of which simply need new lumber and a little manual labor. With the local population not only re-homed, but also that knows how to rebuild and repair their homes and all working together and with locally available materials, things are changing fast on ground zero. As funds from the rapid relief phase are used up, we’ve began fundraising for the second stage second of rebuilding. The team here has done an amazing job of avoiding government and NGO corruption by sourcing financial aid directly from our supporters and avoiding the paralysis of a dysfunctional state slow to provide international aid while those inside negotiate their shares of the “profit”. We’re taking care of the natural forms of capital including living, cultural, social and experiential. But financial capital is what helps rebuild more homes for more people. It’s been six weeks since the earthquake originally hit, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Support Ecuador as a volunteer: If you'd like to support the relief efforts as a volunteer, please contact Diego Tejador at diegotejedor@permaculturacaimito.org. We're accepting volunteers to help with rebuilding efforts and also have a hands-on permaculture apprenticeship alongside the farmers of the worlds best cacao. Support Ecuador with a donation: If you're interested in helping our fundraising efforts to amplify the regenerative response to this disaster, you can donate directly to our 501c3 via this crowdfunding campaign organized by the amazing pure chocolate beverage company, Cholaca. Make a donation It's a powerful thing to be able to lend a helping hand to neighbors in our global village, and my biggest takeaway has been that the winds of disaster only feed the fire of a caring community.