More than 14,000 Ecuadorians are still in shelters after torrential rains flooded nearly half the country.

Rain and floods are not unusual in Ecuador's winter, but this year torrential rains have continued since early January, affecting 13 provinces - nearly half the country.

Floods are expected to last until May, prompting President Rafael Correa to declare: "This is not an emergency, this is a disaster. We don't have enough resources to assist the victims."

With as many as 300,000 people uprooted from their homes, more than 14,000 are living in shelters and schools. About 40 per cent of the displaced are children.

'We had to flee our homes'

Where the floods hit the hardest, the scene is difficult to believe. People are living in the midst of an immense polluted lake, where transportation is only possible by small wooden boats. Villagers in some of the most affected provinces resist evacuation, fearing that their belongings will be stolen in their absence. But it is a risky proposition.

"Last night we had to flee our homes as strong winds hit our area, taking away with them entire roofs," said a woman from Muñoz Rubio in Los Rios. "The houses are falling apart. A little girl was trapped inside one of the destroyed houses."

Dario Guevara is one of many schools that are currently running as temporary shelters. Ninety families are currently living there, with each classroom housing five to eight families.

Poor families are the most vulnerable

UNICEF, with the local support of the National Institute for Children and Family, is leading a programme called 'Return to Happiness' to provide emotional and psychological support to young survivors of the floods. The programme is expected to reach more than 10,000 children.

UNICEF Ecuador has already trained hundreds of volunteers and delivered backpacks with recreational materials for young people. To prevent the spread of diseases, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health also have provided chloride equipment, safe water, mattresses and insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

The nets are critical because floods dramatically increase the transmission of mosquito borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria.

The severity of this year's rainstorms and flooding shines a stark light on the vulnerability of people living in coastal lowlands. Lacking resources, they settle in the least secure places when the annual rains come. A coordinator at one of the shelters pointed out that many of the same families seek refuge every year. How to prevent this perennial loss of life and security is an urgent issue for hundreds of thousands here.