Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de
A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC
SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R
EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Mushtaq MOJADDIDI
Kabul, March 7, 2019 (AFP) - At least two blasts struck a large ceremony Thursday attended by Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other leading government officials, killing one person and injuring 17 others. The Kabul attack represents a major security breach and marks a resumption of violence in the capital after weeks of calm amid ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban in Doha. "Stay calm, the area of the blast is far from us," said former lower house speaker Mohammad Younus Qanooni during a live broadcast of the event. But moments after the announcement, another explosion and gunfire could be heard that sent people running. A second unidentified voice then addressed the screaming crowd, saying: "I request my countrymen to stay calm. The mortar attack is far from the gathering."
The blasts happened during a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the death of Shiite Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari that was attended by many of the country's political elite, including Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. "Terrorists were firing Mortars at Abdul Ali Mazari remembrance ceremony, from inside a compound," deputy interior minister Khoshal Sadat said in English on Twitter, adding that police had arrested one person linked to the attack. "One martyred, 17 wounded -- 3 children and one woman among them," tweeted Wahidullah Mayar, spokesman for the health ministry. Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani -- who was at the scene -- later added that "terrorists launched rocket attacks on commemoration ceremony", and said he had escaped safely. It remained unclear whether rockets or mortar fire were being used, with officials using both terms.
- 'Unforgivable attack' -
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts. "This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy," tweeted presidential candidate and former national security adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar. He added that eight of his security guards were injured in the attack. The incident comes as US and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.
The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban-claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound. Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country's south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season. Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.
On Wednesday at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan's Jalalabad city. The hours-long attack began early Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate of the compound, allowing three others to enter the area where they went on a killing spree. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the Taliban are active near the city, in Nangarhar province. Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
Kandahar, Afghanistan, March 2, 2019 (AFP) - At least 20 people were killed by flash floods in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, the UN said Saturday, as heavy rains swept away homes and vehicles and potentially damaged thousands of houses. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said widespread flooding indudated Kandahar city and surrounding districts in the province, with 97mm of rain falling in affected areas in the last 30 hours. "At least 10 people, including children, are still missing," said the UN agency in a statement.
"It is anticipated that up to 2,000 homes may have been damaged", with severe damage to infrastructure also being reported. Kandahar's deputy governor Abdul Hanan Moneeb said the flooding was the worst in at least seven years, with many nomadic herders camped in the area swept away by the floodwaters along with their livestock. The official added that 400 families have been rescued by the Afghan army since the flooding began late Friday night. Rescue operations, however, were largely delayed due to heavy rainfall, Raziq Shirzai, the provincial commander of the Afghan air force, told AFP.
Disasters such as avalanches and flash floods often hit mountainous areas and river valleys of Afghanistan as snow melts in the spring and summer. It is made worse by deforestation. Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan this winter has raised fears of severe flooding as spring approaches, following years of devastating drought in the country. Nearly 50 people have been killed as of February 12 due to flooding in Afghanistan so far this year, according to the UN.
November 05, 2008
Ecuador is a Spanish-speaking country about the size of Colorado.
It has a developing economy and a democratically elected government.
Ecuador is geogra
In general, tourist facilities are adequate but vary in quality.
Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000.
Both U.S. coins and Ecuadorian coins, which are equivalent to the value of the U.S. coins, are used.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ecuador for additional information.
A U.S. passport with remaining validity of at least six months is required to enter Ecuador. A valid U.S. passport is required to depart Ecuador.
Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel.
U.S. citizens traveling on regular passports for tourism or business do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less.
Those planning a longer visit must obtain a visa in advance of arrival.
Travelers who stay in Ecuador beyond the allowed entry time are charged a substantial fee and are barred from re-entering Ecuador for six months from the date of departure.
An airport exit tax is required when departing Ecuador.
U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Ecuador must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration offices in those cities prior to arriving at the airport in order to obtain permission to depart.
Ecuador’s exit procedures mandate that minors (under the age of 18) who are citizens or residents of Ecuador and who are traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization.
If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized and authenticated by the Ecuadorian Embassy or an Ecuadorian consulate within the United States.
It is not uncommon for some local authorities to insist these documents be apostilled (authenticated).
Documents must be apostilled by the same State that issued the document.
For a list of State Authentication Authorities go to http://travel.state.gov/about/info/customer/customer_312.html; if documents are prepared in Ecuador, only notarization by an Ecuadorian notary is required.
This paragraph does not apply to children who enter Ecuador with U.S. passports as tourists, unless they hold dual U.S./Ecuadorian citizenship.
For further information regarding entry, exit, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Ecuadorian Embassy at 2535 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 234-7166; web page http://www.ecuador.org/; or the Ecuadorian Consulate in Chicago (312) 338-1002/03; fax (312) 338-1004, Houston (713) 572-8731, Jersey City (201) 985-1700, Los Angeles (323) 658-5146; (323) 658-1068; fax (323) 658-1198, Miami (305) 539-8214, New Orleans (504) 523-3229, New York (212) 808-0211, or San Francisco (415) 982-1819.
Visit the Embassy of Ecuador’s web site at http://www.ecuador.org
for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises caution when traveling to the northern border region of Ecuador, to include areas in the provinces of Sucumbios, Orellana and Carchi, northern Esmeraldas, and southern Esmeraldas, south of Atacames.
U.S. government personnel are under limitations with respect to traveling alone and over-nighting in these areas due to the spread of organized crime, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking, and incursions by various Colombian terrorist organizations.
Since 1998, at least ten U.S. citizens have been kidnapped near Ecuador's border with Colombia.
One U.S. citizen was murdered in January 2001 by kidnappers holding him for ransom. Violent crime has significantly increased in 2007 and 2008 with American citizens being victims of crimes, to include but not limited to, homicides, armed assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, and home invasions.
American citizens have also been the victims of violent crime on beaches regardless of whether the beach is a popular tourist destination or remote.
Political demonstrations occur frequently throughout Ecuador for various reasons. Protesters often block city streets and rural highways, including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway. Public transportation is often disrupted during these events. Protesters may burn tires, throw rocks and Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property and detonate small improvised explosive devices during demonstrations. Police response may include water cannons and tear gas. U.S. citizens and U.S. affiliated interests are not usually targeted, but U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress and to be prepared with backup transportation plans. Although political demonstrations have not been directed at foreigners in the past, visitors are reminded that peaceful demonstrations can turn violent with little or no warning.
Additionally, foreigners are prohibited from protesting in Ecuador and may be subject to arrest for participating in demonstrations of any kind.
Please see the following links for the local information in Quito and Guayaquil's Consular Districts, respectively at http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/security-and-safety/warden-messages.html and http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/warden_messages.html . U.S. citizens may also keep informed of daily happenings by following the local news and police reports.
Ecuadorian authorities may declare states of emergency in provinces and regions affected by civil unrest, natural disaster, or other disruptions. During states of emergency, authorities have expanded powers to restore order, including suspension of some constitutional rights, expanded detention powers, and imposition of curfews.
Radicals in various locations in Ecuador, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, have occasionally placed small explosive devices that release political literature, known locally as pamphlet bombs. Targets have included local and international businesses and various Government of Ecuador buildings. Although no foreign tourists have been injured in these explosions, American citizens visiting or residing in Ecuador are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid suspicious looking packages.
U.S. citizens should carry identification at all times, including proof of U.S. citizenship.
Travelers to Ecuador’s beach areas should be aware that strong currents, undertow, and underwater hazards may exist and are not always posted.
Most beaches lack staffed lifeguard stations.
For information on the Galapagos Islands, please see the “Special Circumstances” section of this Country Specific Information.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov , where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
Crime is a serious problem in Ecuador, and visitors should be alert and cautious.
Non-violent crime is common: hundreds of Americans are robbed every year in Ecuador.
Violent crime has increased in recent years.
Thieves and small gangs armed with guns or knives are now sometimes active even in smaller cities such as Otavalo, Manta, and Cuenca.
Tourists have been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails, including on the well-populated trail to the summit of Pichincha Volcano in Quito.
Incidents of rape have increased, even in well-traveled tourists areas and when the victims traveled in groups for safety. Shootings, kidnappings, and carjackings are still relatively rare, but American citizens have been victimized by those crimes.
The Ecuadorian government has increased police patrols in tourist areas, but travelers should remain alert to their surroundings and maintain constant control of personal belongings.
Travelers should avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry and watches.
Avoid deserted beaches, hiking trails, and infrequently traveled roads, as well as the interior regions of large city parks, particularly at night. Robberies on public buses are a continuing problem.
The Embassy recommends that visitors use legitimate taxicabs (yellow, with meters) to travel around the larger cities.
Public buses can be dangerous – from both a traffic safety and a personal security point of view.
Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in public markets, airports, bus terminals, restaurants, and crowded streets.
Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery and “snatch and grabs”; business travelers carrying laptop computer bags are similarly targeted.
Many travelers who travel by bus store their luggage below the bus, where it is sometimes stolen.
Therefore, we recommend that you do not store your passport in your luggage. Always be aware of your surroundings, and try to not travel alone.
Thefts from vehicles are common.
Do not leave anything of value in plain view in a car, including sunglasses or sports equipment.
Carjackings have occurred in both rural and urban areas.
Visitors are advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up.
In Quito, travelers should be particularly alert on the crowded streets of south Quito, at the Panecillo, in Old Quito, and in the areas of El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, and Gonzalez Suarez.
The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages hiking to the summit of Pichincha as violent crime is sharply rising.
Groups as large as eight have been robbed at gunpoint by masked men; female hikers have been sexually assaulted.
The Mariscal Sucre District is a popular tourist area in Quito with numerous restaurants, bars, hotels, and shopping sites.
Since 1999, U.S. government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized there, prompting the U.S. Embassy to put certain bars off-limits and to declare a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees.
Increased police presence and better lighting in prime tourist squares of Old Quito have improved safety, but similar measures in the Mariscal district have not been as effective.
In Guayaquil, take extra caution in the downtown area at night, in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city.
The riverfront park area called the Malecon 2000 and the passage up to the lighthouse in the Las Penas area are generally safe and well patrolled although at night caution should be observed.
There have been repeated instances of travelers followed from the airport and intercepted by robbers using two vehicles to cut off the traveler.
There is some evidence that those most at risk are people who appear to be returning from family visits laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.
There have been armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil.
Guayaquil has also experienced an increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with hijackings, although tourists have not been targeted.
Criminals sometimes use incapacitating drugs such as scopolamine on unsuspecting tourists in order to rob them.
These so-called date rape drugs are put into drinks in order to drug the unsuspecting victim.
This drug can render the victim disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.
Never allow a stranger to “buy” you a drink and never leave your drink unattended.
Several American citizens have reported thefts of property following ingestion of such substances.
Every year, 15 to 20 American citizens are arrested for attempting to traffic drugs between Ecuador and the United States, or between mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos.
Suitcases with false bottoms and other packages are common methods of transporting illegal substances. Many of these citizens claim to have been unaware that they were transporting drugs.
As in any other country, do not accept gifts, packages, or suitcases from other persons; even trusted travel companions have been known to take advantage of their friends and family to traffic drugs through Ecuador’s airports. See the Criminal Penalties section below for more details about Ecuador strict laws and sentences regarding illegal drug trafficking.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm .
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Female victims of crime may receive assistance from the Comisaria de la Mujer at Ave. 24 de Mayo y Calle Loja, telephone 593 2 228 4016 or the Oficina de Derechos de la Mujer, Guayanas E-331 y Inglaterra, Quito 593 2 252 9909.
The local equivalent to the emergency line in Ecuador is the same as the U.S., dial “911”. The operators typically speak Spanish only. Victims should also call the Embassy or Consulate to report the crime and for assistance.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical and dental care can be readily obtained in the major cities of Ecuador.
In smaller communities and in the Galapagos Islands services are limited, and the quality is variable and generally below U.S. standards.
Ambulances, with or without trained emergency staff, are in critically short supply.
Acute surgical and cardiac services are not available on the Galapagos Islands.
Serious cases must be evacuated to the Ecuadorian mainland or the United States for treatment.
Pharmacies are readily available in any city.
However, the availability of some medications is sporadic, and formulations and brand names will differ from products available in the U.S.
Narcotics and tranquilizers are extremely limited in availability.
“Pharmacists” sometimes prescribe and dispense medications.
These individuals often have little training and prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics and other inappropriate medications.
Travelers should not seek their advice.
Folk healers and traditional markets offer herbal and folk remedies which should be avoided as formulations are questionable and some components may interact with other prescription medications.
Travelers to Quito (close to 10,000 feet) and other highland areas may require some time to adjust to the altitude, which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level.
Travelers are encouraged to consult with their personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel.
In particular, travelers with heart or lung problems and persons with sickle cell trait may develop serious health complications at high altitudes.
Scuba divers in the Galapagos Islands should be aware of limited facilities for decompression.
A privately owned decompression chamber is available on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands.
The Ecuadorian Navy operates a second decompression chamber at the San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil.
Due to the high costs for these services and associated emergency transportation, divers are advised to obtain adequate medical evacuation and divers insurance.
Travelers should be aware of the presence of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever in areas of Ecuador below 4,500’ elevation.
Historically there has not been dengue or malaria in the Galapagos archipelago, and yellow fever has only occurred in the Amazon Basin.
Travelers who are on an appropriate anti-malarial drug have a greatly reduced chance of contracting malaria, while vaccine can provide protection against yellow fever.
Avoiding mosquito bites is the only effective prevention for dengue and personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce the risk of contracting all of these illnesses.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a high-risk area, and for up to one year thereafter, should seek prompt medical attention.
For additional information on malaria or dengue, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarials, consult the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization web sites listed below.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ecuador.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith .
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Ecuador is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road travel throughout Ecuador can be dangerous, especially at night.
Many roads are poorly maintained or unmarked.
Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash out roads.
Heavy fog is common in mountainous areas.
Driving practices differ from U.S. standards.
Inter-urban and inter-provincial bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and sexual assault.
Highways are often unmarked and do not have signs indicating destinations.
Road safety features such as crash barriers and guardrails along steep mountainsides are rare.
In the countryside livestock are often herded along roads or graze on roadsides.
Many roads are used for pedestrian and animal traffic as well as vehicular traffic.
Driving habits vary from region to region.
In general, drivers in Quito and the mountain areas and the Oriente (eastern jungle) drive more slowly, observe traffic signals, and slow down for speed bumps.
Vehicles are reasonably well maintained.
On the coast, drivers have a more liberal approach to vehicle maintenance and traffic regulations.
In all areas buses, both intra-city and intercity, will stop at any point on their route to pick up or drop off passengers.
Speed bumps abound, even on major highways such as the Pan American Highway, to slow traffic.
Drivers turn right and left from any lane and do not yield for pedestrians and cyclists.
Intoxicated drivers can be encountered at any time, but they are especially prevalent on weekends and holidays.
Ecuador’s frontier regions are largely rural, poor, and lack police presence.
Because drug traffickers, criminal organizations, and smugglers of all types use clandestine border crossings to move their goods, the U.S. Embassy advises against driving on all but the most traveled highways.
If you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an automobile accident, you will likely be taken into police custody, especially if injuries are involved.
You are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and adequate financial satisfaction received.
Drivers may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.
When driving your own vehicle or a rented vehicle, be sure to have proper vehicle registration papers with you.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.turismo.gov.ec/ and the Ministerio de Transporte y Obras Publicas, the national authority responsible for road safety, at http://www.mtop.gov.ec/ .
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ecuador's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ecuador's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa . SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS: A significant number of Ecuadorian tour vessels operating in the Galapagos Islands are neither inspected nor operated in accordance with U.S. regulations, and do not meet U.S. safety standards.
The Government of Ecuador requires that vessels carrying more than sixteen passengers comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) code established by the International Maritime Organization.
However, the quality of inspections, oversight, crewmember proficiency evaluation, and other requisites for safe vessel operation may vary substantially.
Tour boat accidents are more frequent among small vessels (those carrying fewer than sixteen passengers), but travelers should inquire about safety features of any vessel, regardless of size. When boarding vessels be sure to look for the life boats, floatation devices and if possible take a moment to inspect the life vest you would be using if there were an accident.
There have been at least three cases in 2004-2006 in which small quantities of drugs have been placed by unknown persons in unsecured pockets of tourists' checked bags, including backpacks, en route to the Galapagos.
Upon arrival, these drugs have been detected by police canine units, and the owners of the bags have been arrested and detained for months while the cases are resolved.
Travelers are advised to secure all parts of their bags thoroughly before checking them on flights to the Galapagos.
Strikes and disturbances by local fisherman in the Galapagos Islands have become violent on occasion.
While tourists have not been targeted, the incidents affected their movement and access to some sites.
Such disturbances have been minimal since April 2004, but the issue remains unsettled and could resurface at any time.
The islands are over 600 miles from the mainland and help may be slow in arriving in case of emergency.
The Government of Ecuador has very limited search and rescue capabilities.
Travelers to the Galapagos are encouraged to contact tour operators and visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs' web site for the most recent information when planning their trips to the Galapagos.
OTHER LEGAL ISSUES: Under Ecuadorian law, business disputes that normally would be handled by civil litigation in the United States may be converted into criminal proceedings.
This provision of the law has been used to impose travel prohibitions against resident U.S. citizens, and it also has led to the arrest and incarceration of U.S. business people while they were awaiting a hearing on the civil matter.
When considering purchasing property in Ecuador, Americans should be aware that competing claims to property might only surface after an apparently legal sale has been made.
Deficiencies in the Ecuadorian system for surveying and registering property and weaknesses in the judicial system mean that these disputes can last years.
The Mission is aware of several cases of American citizen land owners in Ecuador being threatened with physical harm and/or confiscation of their property by individuals claiming rights to the land, and, in at least one case, buildings have been razed.
American citizens considering buying property in Ecuador should engage a competent attorney and carefully research land title issues before making a purchase.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Ecuador has 19 potentially active volcanoes, including nine that have shown recent activity.
Earthquakes occur frequently.
Three active volcanoes within 50 kilometers of Quito pose a significant threat to the city: Guagua Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Reventador.
The primary threat is from failures of transportation, water, communications, and power systems due to heavy ash fall and damage to infrastructure outside the city.
Air transportation is especially vulnerable.
Potentially serious respiratory problems are caused by inhalation of ash.
The town of Banos, a popular tourist destination approximately 120 kilometers south of Quito, is at the base of the Tungurahua Volcano.
Tungurahua has erupted explosively several times since 1999, most recently in February of 2008, causing deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Explosive eruptions can occur with little warning.
The resulting flows of mud and lava could pose a significant and immediate threat to Banos and other population centers in the vicinity.
Travelers should to be aware of these conditions when choosing to stay overnight in Banos, especially on the western side of the town, and should be ready to evacuate on short notice.
Other volcanoes active in Ecuador include Reventador, 100 kilometers east of Quito, and Cotopaxi, 50 kilometers south of Quito.
In 2002, lava and mudflows caused by Reventador volcano closed a major Quito/northern-border highway and volcanic ash blanketed Quito, shutting down the Quito airport for several days.
The Quito City Government and the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute monitor these volcanoes and issue regular reports on their activity.
In the event of eruptions, travelers should pay close attention to the news media for updates on the situation.
Other volcanoes in Ecuador may also exhibit increased activity at any time.
Further information is available via the Internet from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute at http://www.igepn.edu.ec/ and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/VAAC/guag.html .
Ecuadorian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Ecuador of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, electronic equipment, and currency.
Contact the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, D.C., or one of Ecuador’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our customs information.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Ecuadorian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ecuador are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
The Ecuadorian government is required by international law to notify the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate promptly when an American citizen is arrested and requests such notification.
Delays in notification can limit the assistance the U.S. Government can provide an arrested American citizen.
Therefore, Americans should promptly identify themselves as such to arresting officers and request that the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil be notified immediately.
Prison conditions in Ecuador are extremely poor.
In many facilities food is insufficient in both quantity and quality, and prisoners must pay for adequate nutrition from their own funds.
Most Ecuadorian prisons provide poor medical care, and urgent medical conditions may receive only minimal attention.
The Guayaquil penitentiary medical clinic does not have medicine but is staffed with medical personnel. Prisoners must personally pay to have someone outside of the prison obtain medicine and prescriptions. Those accused of crimes in Ecuador can expect lengthy delays before trial and sentencing.
The accused are usually incarcerated while awaiting trial and sentencing, and in the case of serious crimes, bail is generally not an option.
For information on see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Ecuador are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Ecuador.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Quito is located at Avigiras E12-170 y Eloy Alfaro.
The telephone during business hours (8:00a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is (011) 593 2 398 5000.
For after-hours emergencies use (011) 593 2 398 5000. Within the same city use the last seven digits.
Add the city code for intercity telephone calls.
The Embassy's web site is http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/
The U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil is located at the corner of 9 de Octubre and Garcia Moreno (near the Hotel Oro Verde); telephone (011-593-4) 232-3570 during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 232-1152 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-4) 232-0904.
The Consulate General's web site is http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/.
Consular services for U.S. citizens in the Galapagos Islands are provided by the Consulate General in Guayaquil with assistance from a U.S. Consular Agent in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, at (05) 2526-330 or (05) 2526-296.
The Consular Section in Quito is open for American Citizen Services, including registration, from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays.
In order to provide better customer service and reduce waiting times, the American Citizen Services section in Guayaquil uses an online appointment system. Appointments are available from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Notary appointments are Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays. Walk-in service remains available, but customers with appointments take precedence.
To make an appointment, go to http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov/online_appointments.html
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ecuador dated March 28, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Quito, Sept 7, 2018 (AFP) - A deep 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador on Thursday night, causing damage to buildings and injuring two people. The quake hit at 9:12 pm local time (0212 GMT on Friday) at a depth of 93.5 kilometres, near the center of the South American country. It was felt across several provinces, according to Twitter users. Two people were injured in the town of Cumanda.
The walls of homes cracked and ceilings caved in, mayor Marco Marquiasca said. Local authorities recorded its magnitude as 6.5. Ecuador suffered a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 16, 2016, which devastated villages in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas and killed 673 people. The losses amounted to more than $3 billion, according to authorities. Located on the boundary of the Nazca and South America tectonic plates, Ecuador is very prone to seismic activity.
Quito, Aug 16, 2018 (AFP) - Colombia's government said Wednesday that 19 of the victims of a deadly bus crush in Ecuador were its citizens, as Quito lowered the overall death toll from the accident. Ecuador's foreign ministry said in a statement that 23 people were killed in the Tuesday crash, instead of 24 as previously announced. Twelve Colombians, four Venezuelans and two Ecuadorans who died in the accident have been identified, the statement said.
The bus, which had foreign license plates, overturned and crashed into three houses after a collision with an all-terrain vehicle near Quito. Ecuador transport colonel Julio Barba said the driver "probably overused the brakes... which produced an overheating of the brake system leading to a loss of control of the vehicle." Colombia's Transport Ministry had said on Tuesday that the bus was not authorized to carry tourists. One of the two drivers, who was injured in the crash, has been arrested.
Traffic accidents are among the leading causes of death in Ecuador. According to the watchdog group Justicia Vial, on average seven people are killed and some 80 people injured each day in traffic accidents. And 96 percent of those accidents are due to human error, according to the group's figures. On Sunday, 12 people were killed and 30 injured when a bus carrying fans of Barcelona SC, Ecuador's most popular football club based in Guayaquil, ran off the highway and flipped.
Quito, June 11, 2018 (AFP) - A Lebanese man has been stuck in immigration purgatory at an airport in Ecuador for 42 days after losing his passport and being returned there from Spain. Nizam Hussein Shalak, 56, who does not speak Spanish, has been residing in the international terminal of the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo airport in Guayaquil, El Universo newspaper reported. "It is a case of inadmissibility because he has no documents," a foreign ministry source said. "The only legal body to issue a travel document is the Lebanese consulate in Bogota," which has not responded to requests that it do so, the source said. "We are closely following the case and are working with the interior (ministry) to get Lebanon to issue him a travel document so he can return to his country." The situation resembles that of an Iranian refugee who lived in a Paris airport from 1988 to 2006 and was portrayed in the film "The Terminal" starring Tom Hanks.
Shalak visited Guayaquil two months ago and stopped on the way back to Lebanon in Lima, Peru, and Barcelona, Spain, where he was detained after losing his passport as well as his credit cards, El Universo newspaper reported. He stayed in Barcelona for 10 days and Lima for another 11 before being returned to Guayaquil, where he had to make a makeshift a bed on the seats of the terminal. "He eats with the coupons that the airline... gives him from time to time" and showers "every three or four days, when they take him to a bathroom in another part of the terminal," the newspaper said. The foreign ministry source said that while Shalak left with a passport, he did not have one upon his return and could not pass immigration. Therefore, "he is not legally in the country."
Quito, April 6, 2018 (AFP) - An Ecuadoran soldier died Thursday from wounds sustained in a roadside bomb blast two weeks ago on the border with Colombia, Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno said, calling the explosion a "terrorist act." He said on Twitter that the corporal was being treated in a military hospital when he succumbed to his grievous injuries, which had resulted in both his legs being amputated. "A hug of solidarity to his family," Moreno tweeted. The death took to four the number of soldiers killed in the March 20 blast, which occurred near the border town of Mataje. A dozen others were wounded.
Ecuador has since January been confronted with an unusual wave of attacks directed at its security forces. The government blames dissident rebels with Colombia's former FARC guerrilla group which has disbanded and become a political party following a landmark 2016 peace deal. An Ecuadoran media team comprising a reporter, a photographer and a driver were abducted last week in Mataje. Quito has stepped up the military presence in the region, and has reinforced cooperation with Colombia to try to quell the border violence. But the task is a difficult one, with dense jungle providing cover to insurgents.
By Jordi MIRO
Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, Feb 8, 2018 (AFP) - With its iconic giant tortoises, crested black iguanas, huge ocean manta rays and a veritable menagerie of other cool creatures, the Galapagos Islands are one of the most beautiful places you will probably never visit. Why not?
Who wouldn't want to go to a white sand beach and soak up some sun alongside a lounging iguana, or surf in waters with those lumbering tortoises swimming beside you and a rainbow of tropical fish below? But in order to protect the flora, fauna and ecosystems of this Pacific archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, Ecuador is in the odd position of having to turn away perhaps millions of would-be tourists each year.
Keeping a tight lid on tourism is the way the South American country has preserved this volcanic string of 19 large islands, dozens of islets and rocky outcroppings. Authorities wage this fight as world tourism grows and grows -- it was up seven percent last year -- and they must resist the temptation to let in hordes of visitors, their pockets bulging with dollars. "The Galapagos are the crown jewel, and as such, we have to protect them," Tourism Minister Enrique Ponce de Leon told AFP. "We must be drastic in caring for the environment."
- Welcome, sort of -
With a network of small hotels and ferries running between the islands, the Galapagos -- about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast -- is an eco-tourism destination that is among the most select spots in all of the Pacific. Flights from Quito or Guayaquil cost about $400 round-trip, and a one-week stay ranges from $2,000-7,000 per person. The flow of tourists has risen to 245,000 per year and authorities say that's pretty much the limit: the maximum the islands can withstand without harming their various ecosystems. "The environmental, social and biological features of this place -- which is like no other -- forces us to set a limit, to manage tourism in terms of supply, rather than demand," said Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park.
- Restrictions galore -
Preyed on in the past by pirates and whaling ships, the Galapagos these days confront illegal fishing, the effects of climate change and the arrival of intrusive species such as dogs, cats and rats brought over from the mainland. The national park was created in 1959 to protect 97 percent of the islands' land surface, and in 1978 UNESCO classified the archipelago as a World Heritage Site. A marine reserve spanning 138,000 square kilometers (53,280 square miles) was also established.
And a 38,000-square-kilometer marine sanctuary in which all fishing is banned was set up between two of the islands, one called Darwin and the other Wolf. Those waters are home to the highest concentration of sharks on Earth. The islands depend on imports from the mainland and have limited sources of water, so authorities make sure the human population does not grow. These days, only 26,000 people live on the four islands that are in fact inhabited. By law, Ecuadorans from the mainland are treated as foreigners on the Galapagos. And to obtain permanent residency, such people have to have been married to a local for at least a decade.
For years, the authorities have been limiting construction and promoting the use of renewable energy sources and electric cars. Plastic bags are banned. On the island of Baltra, which is the main port of entry, the airport runs exclusively on solar and wind power. "The challenge is to manage tourism in a sustainable way, one that preserves the ecosystems and generates profits. We must not view tourists as the devil," said Juan Carlos Garcia, conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund in Ecuador.
- Open skies -
But of course, limiting tourism here is of no help to the broader Ecuadoran economy, which operates with dollars as the official currency. And these have been lean years for hard currency in oil-producing Ecuador because of low global crude prices and accumulation of lots of debt. Tourism and mining have emerged as lifesavers. Last year, visitors to this fabulously diverse country boasting volcanos and thick Amazon jungle shot up 14 percent compared to 2016, totalling 1.6 million. But that is small compared to other countries in Latin America.
President Lenin Moreno's idea is for tourism is to prop up the economy, even more than oil. For that reason, he decreed an open-skies policy a few months ago to free up air traffic and bring more tourists to Quito and Guayaquil. And many of these travelers will want to go to the Galapagos. The state-owned airline TAM has announced more flights to the islands. Will the island authorities be able to withstand this pressure? "We need to stress quality, and have those who come now stay longer -- have them tour the rest of the country, offering them package deals," says the tourism minister.
World Travel News Headlines
By Joaquim Nhamirre
Maputo, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Tropical cyclone Idai battered Mozambican coastal city Beira Friday, leaving half a million people virtually cut off after power lines crashed, airport shut and roads were swamped by flooding that killed 66 people nationwide. "There is no communication with Beira. Houses and trees were destroyed and pylons downed," an official at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) told AFP. Authorities had to close Beira international airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm. "Unfortunately there is extreme havoc," said the official. "Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged. "The runway is full of obstacles and parked aircrafts are damaged."
Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland. Power utility Electricidade de Mocambique said in a statement that the provinces of Manica, Sofala and parts of Inhambane have been without power since Thursday. Officials did not report any confirmed deaths, but local Beira station STV reported a child had died in Manica province west of the city, apparently the victim of a falling roof. "There was no tsunami-type storm but Beira and Chinde (400 kilometres, 250 miles northeast of Beira on the coast) were badly hit," added the NIDM official.
Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and four houses were destroyed. Virgula added that efforts were under way to assess the damage caused after Idai made landfall late on Thursday. Local officials said that this week's heavy rains claimed 66 lives, injured 111 people and displaced 17,000 people. The World Food Programme (WFP) said it would move 20 tonnes of emergency food aid to the affected areas. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had warned that the storm could pack winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour (118 miles per hour).
- 'Devastation' -
At least 126 people were killed by the downpour that has struck parts of Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa over the past week, officials said. Heavy rains in neighbouring Malawi have affected almost a million people and claimed 56 lives, according to the latest government toll. Authorities there have opened emergency relief camps where malaria and shortages of supplies have led to dire conditions, according to AFP correspondents.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika this week declared a natural disaster. Mozambique's weather service has warned that heavy rain will continue to batter Beira and surrounding areas until Sunday. The UN warned of damage to crops, "including about 168,000 hectares (415,000 acres) of crops already impacted by flooding in early March, which will undermine food security and nutrition". Mozambique and Malawi, two of the poorest countries in the world, are prone to deadly flooding during the rainy season and chronic drought during the dry season. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, weather services have warned that violent thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds will be experienced in the eastern regions of the country.
Niamey, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Health authorities in Niger said Friday they had found a fake version of a meningitis vaccine after the country had launched a campaign to innoculate millions of children against the disease. In a statement, the health ministry asked doctors to be vigilant over a "counterfeit" version of a vaccine called Mencevax ACWY. The fake drug is marked as having been manufactured in December 2016, with an end-date for use by November 2021, it said. Niger launched a week-long campaign on March 5 to vaccinate six million children against meningitis, which killed nearly 200 people two years ago. The country lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence.
The vaccination programme is against meningitis A, one of the six groups of meningitis bacteria that can cause epidemics. The ministry's spokesman told AFP the bogus drug had been discovered during a "routine inspection" of a privately-owned pharmacy in the capital Niamey. An investigation is underway to try to ascertain how many of the fake vaccines have been used, the spokesman said. Health workers administering meningitis jabs are being asked to take special care about their supply source, and the public are being urged to scrutinise vaccines clearly, even if they buy them in "licensed" pharmacies. Fake drugs -- medications that are outright counterfeits or whose active ingredients have been diluted -- are a major problem in West Africa.
In the 2017 outbreak, and in an epidemic in 2015 in which nearly 500 people died, Niger sounded the alarm over purported vials of vaccine that just contained water. Meningitis is transmitted between people through coughs and sneezes, close contact and cramped living conditions. The illness causes acute inflammation of the outer layers of the brain and spinal cord, with the most common symptoms being fever, headache and neck stiffness.
By Khaliun Bayartsogt
Bornuur, Mongolia, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the world's coldest capital, many burn coal and plastic just to survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees -- but warmth comes at a price: deadly pollution makes Ulaanbataar's air too toxic for children to breathe, leaving parents little choice but to evacuate them to the countryside. This exodus is a stark warning of the future for urban areas in much of Asia, where scenes of citizens in anti-pollution masks against a backdrop of brown skies are becoming routine, rather than apocalyptic. Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on the planet, alongside New Delhi, Dhaka, Kabul, and Beijing. It regularly exceeds World Health Organisation recommendations for air quality even as experts warn of disastrous consequences, particularly for children, including stunted development, chronic illness, and in some cases death.
Erdene-Bat Naranchimeg watched helplessly as her daughter Amina battled illness virtually from birth, her immune system handicapped by the smog-choked air in Mongolia's capital. "We would constantly be in and out of the hospital," Naranchimeg told AFP, adding that Amina contracted pneumonia twice at the age of two, requiring several rounds of antibiotics. This is not a unique case in a city where winter temperatures plunge towards uninhabitable, particularly in the districts that rural workers moved to in search of a better life. Here row upon row of the traditional tents -- known as gers -- are warmed by coal, or any other flammable material available. The resulting thick black smoke shoots out in plumes, blanketing surrounding areas in a film of smog that makes visibility so poor it can be hard to see even a few metres ahead. Hospitals are packed and young children are vulnerable, common colds can quickly escalate into life-threatening illness.
- Birth defects -
The situation was so bad that doctors told Naranchimeg the only solution was to send her little girl to the clean air of the countryside. Now aged five, Amina is thriving. She lives with her grandparents in Bornuur Sum, a village 135 kilometres away from the capital. "She hasn't been sick since she started living here," said Naranchimeg, who makes the three-hour round trip to see Amina every week. "It was very difficult in the first few months," she said. "We used to cry when we talked on the phone." But like many parents in Ulaanbaatar, she felt the move was the only way to protect her child.
The levels of PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful particles -- in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe. The effects are terrible for adults but children are even more at risk, in part because they breathe faster, taking in more air and pollutants. As they are smaller, children are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate, and their still-developing lungs, brains, and other key organs are more vulnerable to damage. Effects to prolonged exposure range from persistent infections and asthma to slowed lung and brain development. The risks apply in utero, too, because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights, which can also affect a child for the rest of their lives. Researchers are now investigating whether pollution, like exposure to tobacco smoke, has health effects that could even be passed down to the next generation.
- 'Terribly afraid' -
Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000 kilometres away. The 35-year-old mother-of-three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son's health would improve. But successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced her to send Temuulen to his grandparents. Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son's medicines. "But my mother-in-law asked me 'does he still need medicine? He isn't coughing anymore," she said. "I tell myself that it doesn't matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content." Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. And the WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders. When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar's playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly travelling abroad to wait out the smog.
In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for all of January. "We can't let her play outside (in Ulaanbaatar) because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave," she said. The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared. But the ger residents say coal is all they can afford. "People come to the capital because they need sustainable income," said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six. "It's not their fault," she added. In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May. But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference. For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children. She explained: "Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?"
Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video. An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1. "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday. "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.
Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago. The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You". "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018. A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut. "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson. "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland." Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average. Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Geneva, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - The deadly Ebola outbreak raging in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be over within six months, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday. Seven months since the outbreak erupted in DRC's violence-torn North Kivu province, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters there were clear signs the spread of the virus was "contracting". "Our target is now to finish it in the next six months," he told reporters in Geneva, warning though that increased unrest in the affected area could reverse the progress being made. "It's always good to plan beyond the horizon to prepare for any eventualities," he said, while voicing optimism that massive efforts to rein in the outbreak are working.
The ongoing Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC's history, emerged in North Kivu in August 2018 and then spread to neighbouring Ituri province. It has claimed 584 lives out of nearly 1,000 believed to have been infected, WHO said. Security in eastern DRC, a region rampant with rebel fighters, has dramatically complicated the response, with numerous attacks on Ebola treatment centres. The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity has also sounded the alarm over increasingly "toxic" relations with local communities, whose resistance to Ebola response efforts have also fuelled the spread. MSF pointed out that 40 percent of deaths from the extremely contagious virus are occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres.
- 'Contracting' -
"The Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control," MSF chief Joanne Lieu told reporters in Geneva last week. But Tedros denied Thursday that this was the case. "That's not true," he said. "You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting. It's contracting." He stressed that over the past seven months, the virus had been contained to North Kivu and Ituri.
"It hasn't spread to other parts of the country and it hasn't spread to neighbouring countries," he said, adding that transmission had been halted in a number of places, including in Beni and Mangina. "So the cases are now shrinking in certain geographic areas," he said. Tedros also stressed that the number of new cases had been cut in half since January, with an average of 25 new cases reported each week now compared to 50 at the beginning of the year. He acknowledged though that violence, unrest and community resistance remained a challenge in Butembo especially, which along with Katwa is where the spread of the virus is now concentrated. "I don't want to undermine the risk, because it may again (resurge) if the security situation continues to deteriorate," he said, acknowledging that there is still a chance Ebola could spread to other parts of DRC and neighbouring countries.
Kuala Lumpur, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Over 100 schools in Malaysia have been closed after the dumping of toxic waste into a river caused hundreds of people to fall ill, including many children, authorities said. A lorry is believed to have dumped the waste in southern Johor state last week, sending hazardous fumes across a wide area and causing those affected to display symptoms of poisoning such as nausea and vomiting.
Over 500 people, many of them school pupils, have received medical treatment after inhaling the fumes, with over 160 admitted to hospital, according to official news agency Bernama. It was unclear what type of poisonous gas had been emitted near the industrial town of Pasir Gudang. Education Minister Maszlee Malik initially ordered the closure of 43 schools in the area Wednesday, but later announced that figure had more than doubled.
"The ministry of education has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area immediately," he said in a statement. "The education ministry is requesting that all parties take precautions." Three men were arrested earlier this week over the toxic waste dumping. One is expected to be charged in court soon and could face up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking environmental protection laws.
A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]