CRS in Ecuador

Earthquake in Ecuador

AP Photo/Carlos Sacoto, used with permission
AP Photo/Carlos Sacoto, used with permission

On April 16, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador, killing at least 233 people, a number that is expected to rise as first responders reach the affected area. This is the strongest earthquake Ecuador has experienced since an earthquake in 1979.

Hundreds more have been injured and there are reports of widespread damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure. Communications are down or intermittent, further complicating the logistics of assessing the damage and where the biggest needs are. Catholic Relief Services is coordinating with several actors and partners to determine which areas need to be assessed first.

Ecuador hosts the largest number of refugees in Latin America. Most are Colombians who fled the armed conflict that began in their country in the 1960s. Refugees have settled mainly in the provinces of Pichincha, Sucumbíos, Esmeraldas, Carchi and Imbabura. The people who suffer most as refugees are children, women, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, the poor and people with disabilities.

In partnership with the Scalabrini Mission, CRS works with Colombian refugees and representatives of the communities where they resettle. Catholic Relief Services is supporting the mission with projects that provide critical humanitarian, psychological, social and legal aid in the five provinces on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border.

In addition, CRS’ Borderlands Coffee Project is helping more than 3,000 small-scale farmers in conflict-affected communities along the Colombia-Ecuador border increase coffee-related income, generate employment, expand high-value market opportunities, and reduce their vulnerability to hunger and environmental degradation.


People served: 313,353 (FY 2014: 52,065 direct; 261,288 indirect)

Population: 16,223,030 (April 2015 est.)

Size: 109,484 sq. mi.; slightly smaller than Nevada

CRS' History in Ecuador

Catholic Relief Services began working in Ecuador in 1955, providing food, medicine, clothes and school nutrition programs. Over the years, however, development indicators showed that charity and direct assistance were not breaking the cycle of poverty.

In response, the Catholic Church began working with indigenous communities to strengthen local organizations, improve access to land and introduce new farming methods. Such initiatives proved that sustainable development requires integrated economic, social and organizational programs. We have built on that approach, serving vulnerable and marginalized communities in Ecuador with humanitarian aid; natural disaster preparation and response; rural, health and childhood development programs; and microfinance.

In 2009, CRS decided to change its strategic focus in the country. We now focus on aid to and integration of Colombian refugees, as well as sustainable livelihoods projects along the northern border.

In a context of high poverty and inequality, newcomers face significant discrimination and prejudice, as well as labor exploitation. Furthermore, violence against Colombian women in Ecuador is widespread. Gender-based violence is trivialized based on ideas conveyed by the media and popular culture. Consequently, discriminatory, xenophobic and violent attitudes toward them are justified. In partnership with the Scalabrini Mission, and funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Population and Migration, CRS provides humanitarian aid and psychosocial support for victims and survivors of gender-based violence, and works with schools to accommodate children and adolescents who come to border communities.

Catholic Relief Services also provides training and support for income generation through productive ventures and SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Committees) microfinance groups that benefit the most vulnerable, and influence local authorities to develop favorable public policies for vulnerable populations.

The Borderlands Coffee Project is helping smallholder farming families boost household income through improved yields, increased cup quality, enhanced organizational capacity and expanded access to specialty markets. In Ecuador, the project is working in the northern Amazon with farmers growing Robusta-variety coffee.

CRS works with Pastoral Social Caritas Ecuador to produce the original radio series, "Pan-Amazon: Source of Life in the Heart of the Church." The series is made up of 21 radio programs and is disseminated on every platform of The Latin American Association for Radio Education (ALER) throughout the region to help encourage and stimulate reflection and problem-solving on conflicts in the Amazon.      

The Social Pastoral Project, supported by CRS, has promoted encounters in the Amazon provinces of Ecuador between the Church and civil society organizations to document the historic role of the Church in defending the interests of indigenous and vulnerable populations.