Ecuador seeks further recovery from quake. Oil-exporting nation sees repair of major pipeline as key to progress

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

There are tangible signs that Ecuador is beginning to recover from its March 5 earthquake. The Amazon oil fields are operating again, and families are rebuilding their homes. But the country's problems aren't over yet. Until the trans-Andean pipeline is repaired and exports resumed, oil production will remain at a fraction of its normal level. And residents of the northeastern Amazon region protest their continued isolation, following the destruction of the main road to the capital. Without full use of the pipeline, Ecuador is strapped for cash - despite help from the international community. The World Bank and the Andean Development Corporation have approved loans for about $100 million to finance reconstruction in the oil sector, while the United States and the International Development Bank are supporting road-building projects.

Apart from Venezuelan and Nigerian loans of crude oil, Ecuador's exports have been frozen since the quake. Oil usually contributes between half and two-thirds of foreign earnings. Energy Minister Javier Espinosa estimates Ecuador's loss of income at about $90 million a month.

After the quake, part of the River Coco tripled in width, and mud, rock, and trees torn from the mountainside buried 10 miles of road and pipeline as well as small farming communities. Although new pipe has arrived from Italy, the trans-Andean pipeline will not be operational until mid-August, Mr. Espinosa says. Then production will rise rapidly, reaching about 320,000 barrels per day (bpd) by year's end.

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The leaders of Ecuador and Colombia inaugurated the completion of a pipeline link between their nations last month. They also signed an accord for joint oil exploration and exploitation in the frontier area. This is the first cooperative venture of its kind in South America.

As oil began to flow along the pipeline from the Amazon oil town of Lake Agrio to Colombia, protesters demanded roads and services for the neglected Amazon region.

Huge avalanches triggered by the quake have changed the topography of the Andean foothills, and there are no firm plans to rebuild the main road to the capital. A new section further south is being bulldozed as fast as possible, but this will not benefit the farmers along the old route who have no way of getting their products to market.

Over the next few months, some 6,000 US Army and National Guard reserves will help forge the southern section of the road, working short stints in the jungle. Their presence, part of US's aid, has raised further protests - this time, from left-wing political groups and students. The exact route has yet to be defined, but it is likely to mean considerable destruction of the Amazon forest, and will encourage new settlers to invade land inhabited by Indians.

The problems that hamper Amazon recovery are compounded by poor coordination, accusations of misuse of funds, and the soaring cost of cement, foodstuffs, and fuel. In contrast, the Andean highlands appear a model of good organization. One foreign expert commented, ``I haven't seen a single example of gross wastage. In all 30 communities we're working with, I only know of three cases involving even small-scale abuse, such as not being able to account for six blankets.''

A number of international bodies support long-term projects in the highlands. After the quake they channeled extra funds direct to local nongovernment counterparts.

Though the mountainsides are still dotted with plastic tents, new houses are going up. Some 10,000 houses were damaged, and most must be rebuilt. Incessant rains have slowed the building progress, but it looks as though grain and corn harvests will be good.

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