I spent most of my time in Chamanga trekking up and down what is now the Camino Principal of Nuevo Chamanga (the main road of New Chamanga). Positioned at the top end of the town I was given a small but fascinating insight into the various ways the community have responded and are still adapting to the situation they now finds themselvesf in. The April 2016 earthquake has exacerbated pre-exisiting issues and created new problems in the town. In some ways disaster has been a catalyst for change and development, although there is still a long way to go on the road to recovery.
Following the earthquake, which shattered much of the exisiting waterfront town, around 50% of Chamanga’s residents relocated to the higher ground of Nuevo Chamanga, inland and away from the waters edge. Some have moved to the state run Campamento Chamanga, a gated village of around 100+ tents, some housing families of up to 7 (with barely enough space for two double beds and only makeshift flooring).
- Image 1: Rows of tents in Campamento Chamanga, currently home to around 100 hundred families who are waiting for permanent housing
On the opposite side of the road another group have relocated of their own accord, choosing to join/create an informal settlement, Nuevo Jerusalem. Their independence from state management affords them more flexibility and consequently fosters a strong entrepreneurial spirit and tight community bond.
- Image 2: Children play on the playground at Nuevo Jerusalem after their morning school session. They spend most of the afternoon there because, at present, it’s the only interactive space they have for socialising and play in the new part of town.
In the past 10 months, post-quake, the urban boundaries of Chamanga have extended by around a 1km. The increase in residential activity in Nuevo Chamanga and the relocation of the main bus station to the top end of the town has brought with it a range of local stores and pop-up shops, as locals shop-owners follow the migration of people in order to maintain their livelihoods.
- Image 3: Small shops in quickly built wooden shelters have sprung up near to the camps and the bus station to take advantage of the migration of people to the top of the town.
- Image 4: Along the Camino Principal there are small shelters of various shapes and sizes which are used as ‘pop-up’ shops on a first come, first served basis – like the manicurist pictured here. These structures also offer shade and social space, which is otherwise lacking in Nuevo Chamanga.
- Image 5: El Heladero de Chamanga (the ice cream man) pictured near what used to be the sign signaling the town boundary. Nuevo Chamanga now stretches around another 1km beyond this point, inland, towards the main highway.
- Image 6: A young girl stands outside one of the new state provided houses. There are at least 3 different kinds of new residential designs being built in Chamanga at present, not all of them well-suited to the context or conditions.
These few examples only scratch the surface of the diversity and dynamics of recovery and development activities (both formal and informal) at this end of town. I left overwhelmed, challenged and inspired by what I saw and 10 days was nowhere near enough time to digest the complexity of the recovery process ahead (particularly given the language barriers). There is still much to be done, but perhaps small changes can affect big problems – if nothing else, hopefully our time spent in Chamanga will help sustain or support some of the energy already present within the community.
There is a delicate balance to be maintained between traditional artisanal fishing practiced by a large part of the population of Chamanga, prawn farming and the estuarine mangroves. The mangroves are crucial as they provide nurseries for fish. These photos are in the area where the new fishing port facility is planned.
The current housing is in the high risk zone for flooding and liquefaction. Families there will be rehoused.
UIC Barcelona student Renata speaking with Ramiro who leads the fishermen’s union about conserving the mangroves.
All the theory of development doesn’t equip you for the theory amnesia that strikes in the field. At first it’s the travel peculiarities that distract you from what’s ahead. Looking left instead of right as the Trolebús takes your nose off. A few deep gasps of the high altitude air isn’t quite enough to catch your breath. The beautiful sensory overload keeps you keenly observant but easily distracted from why we are here.
The many aid organisations that come to ‘help’ regenerate after the earthquake seem confused in why they are here too. Tents emblazoned with large repeated logos signify the scale of assistance and promote the good will being dished out from abroad by UNICEF, Oxfam and the Catholic Church. USAID’s tagline hammers home that the fortune is thanks to “the people of America”. It’s a worry because everything we’ve studied so far suggests that success can’t be measured in tents and tarps and that development only succeeds when the community is able to take ownership of the projects and carry them into the future. Reinforcing the hopelessness felt by dislocated communities in the hope of pleasing donors with a few glory shots of dollars spent seems short sighted.
After spending a day on a village working bee we were able to see effective aid versus opportunistic interference. A beautifully designed communal building open to the air sits at the centre of the village providing shade from the brutal sun and is equipt with kitchen, tables and chairs. It allows children to play, women to meet during the day and public meetings, essential for collective efforts needed to rebuild. Next to this communal building sits a dry composting toilet that is, and looks, evidently experimental. The exploded pipes oozing with its contents speak of the misguided intention of miracle solutions dropped from above. The project bypasses the user and now the community bypasses it, with effluent having nowhere to go but the street.
We spent a day labouring with the villagers who are building a new toilet and shower block which felt good. But if nothing else I hope we don’t leave behind anything that weakens further an already fragile community. Good intention is most certainly not enough. RK
You never really know what you’re capable of until you let go of fear and throw yourself into a life of absurdities. I say absurd, because describing what we are doing here in Ecuador mystifies many, horrifies others, and for a special few, well, they sit undecided between looking longingly at the ocean and hurling themselves headlong in, regardless of the water temperature.
Here in Ecuador we are well and truly throwing ourselves into an ocean of rips and undiscovered sea monsters, yet everyone here is taking it with a smile and loads of fun, whether battling the relentless humidity and heat, the occasional bout of gastro, clouds of mosquitoes, 12 hour workdays and oh, did I mention the heat??
Getting to know Chamanga has reignited some fire and I have discovered my fear of letting the people down leading to enormous design blockage. I am working in amazing team of 6 people, covering countries including China, Japan, Italy and Pakistan. We have very quickly discovered our particular areas of talent and interest and are working well to produce design interventions for public open space. Other groups are tackling projects such as sporting fields, a port, the new village and a women’s centre with another sports field.
The projects are diverse, they are interesting, and the task ahead looks enormous, but the amount of ground we are covering as a group is inspiring. I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.
UIC, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, RMIT, Universidad Católica de Ecuador (PUCE), UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
On April 16th 2016, a 7,8 degree Richter scale earthquake took place in Ecuador. It affected the populations along the coast, one of which was the Parroquia of San José de Chamanga. Sixty to seventy percent of the houses collapsed, leaving the coast line as ground zero. However, the earthquake also revealed preexisting social and planning problems which have been occurring for decades and which the natural disaster enhanced such as the lack of basic public services and housing deficit (Mi cometa evaluación de impacto Chamanga, 2016).
In order to contribute to the ongoing reconstruction process of Chamanga, RMIT MODDD STUDENTS are participating in a two-week workshop in coastal Equador. The workshop intends to practically contribute to the rebuilding efforts and work being developed by the local institutions and academic partners. To date the reconstruction process has been very slow and uncoordinated, with little input from local community leaders.
We are hoping that plans developed by the 5 university partners, can add to the substantial work already done by other academic and research colleagues in Quito.
Day 1: Field Visit
We made an initial site visit to Chamanga to inspect the damage caused by the earthquake and also hear from community leaders about the lack of progress in the rebuilding of their city.
Raphael, Sarah and Robin look at their respective project sights from an aerial map of Chamagna