(March 30, 2012 - by Ralph Kurtenbach) On a flooded road in northwestern Ecuador’s coastal province of Manabí, Hermann Schirmacher thought his engine might die. By pumping the clutch and gas pedals almost simultaneously he kept the engine alive and arrived in Limón, a coastal town where he’d agreed to hold a mobile medical clinic.
|Aerial view of flooding in Manabí province
Upon reaching Limón, the HCJB Global Hands medical team needed a different finesse equal to that of Schirmacher behind the wheel. Requested by a congresswoman to offer clinics to flood victims, they were soon navigating local political currents—or so it seemed. Schirmacher serves as director of Community Development and Disaster Response at HCJB Global Hands.
Specifically, controversies swirled around the authorities’ decision to release waters held by a dam called La Esperanza (hope). As Hospital Vozandes-Quito and Radio Station HCJB are purposely nonpolitical, team members fixed their focus on medical work. The five-person crew waited while Ecuadorian Congresswoman Sylvia Kon conducted a press conference in Calceta.
|Hermann Schirmacher helping families
in Limón, Ecuador.
Around mid-morning, progress toward patient care moved ahead as effectively as the team’s Hyundai van had earlier been coaxed onward. By late evening that same day, Drs. Steve Nelson and Paulina Roldán and an intern, Juan Diego Salazar, had seen 170 patients. Most complained of skin problems (due to continued exposure to water) and upper respiratory infections.
|Ian McFarland hands a prescription to a
local resident battling an infection.
The following day at Estancia Vieja (near Portoviejo) some 187 patients manifested similar symptoms as those in Limón: skin issues, parasites and fungi. Schirmacher happily witnessed the same congresswoman talking with people and helping with whatever needed to be done to conduct a mobile medical clinic. “Almost no political activity was visible around us,” he observed.
|Dr. Steve Nelson uses his stethoscope to
check local children.
An area mayor, Ramón González Álava, said when the level of the reservoir behind the dam came within 4.5 feet of overflowing, authorities released the waters at a rate of 164 cubic yards per second. The depth of the reservoir had even surpassed levels reached in 1998 when heavy rains related to the El Niño effect buffeted Ecuador’s coast.
Twenty people have died in the flooding with thousands forced to flee to government shelters. The administration of President Rafael Correa has decreed a state of emergency for six of Ecuador’s provinces.
Photo credit: Hermann Schirmacher
Sources: HCJB Global, El Comercio, El Telégrafo, BBC