UMCOR is aiding local response to Chile's frequent natural disasters. Here a Chilean man displays his national flag amid earthquake rubble.
Felipe Ovalle (Creative Commons use)
By David Tereshchuk*
September 24, 2012—Chile, that long narrow strip of South America bounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes mountain range on the other, carries a distinction that presents huge problems to its citizens—but also a great challenge for radically improving their lives.
That distinction? Chile is recognized worldwide as an especially disaster-prone nation.
“It is a country very active with natural disasters, from volcanoes to earthquakes to tsunamis, and more”, says Melissa Crutchfield, International Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which has long partnered with local humanitarian organizations in Chile.
UMCOR has extended its support for Equipo Metodista de Ayuda Humanitaria (EMAH), the Chilean Methodist Church’s relief arm, in order to expand the reach of disaster aid and enhance local capacity for effective response and for disaster readiness.
In a land of such dramatic geography, many communities have developed in remote locations, hundreds of miles from district or provincial capitals. Community members are themselves the first responders to a natural disaster—and may be the only ones for some time. Until recently, they have often been poorly equipped, due to lack of training, to mitigate a disaster’s worst consequences.
UMCOR’s partnership with EMAH is focusing on positive and sustainable change in such rural areas—and also in underserved urban communities—through a coordinated effort that provides lifesaving training and assistance. EMAH also will provide UMCOR-supported workshops in preparedness and response training for Methodist officials from Peru and Bolivia.
The training will address specific vulnerabilities that stem from the seemingly inescapable fact that building standards in such areas almost invariably are sub-standard. People’s homes (often just shacks) are prone to collapse in the event of an earthquake or high winds and water. And slum housing is oftentimes located in an alluvial flood plain or at the mouth of rivers or streams that present a constant threat of flooding.
Such conditions have inevitably created precarious living conditions for thousands of people. They underscore the need, now being tackled, for ensuring that communities achieve greater resiliency in the face of the array of hazards that confront them.
In many ways, according to UMCOR’s Melissa Crutchfield, “Our partnership and ongoing collaboration with EMAH Chile is one of our flagship programs, particularly insofar as capacity strengthening is concerned.”
The combined effort in Chile is distinguished (perhaps regrettably, but to good effect) by the fact that this unusually vulnerable country has ample opportunity to put into practice its response and preparedness training programs.
“Chileans have certainly had occasion to use what they have learned,”reflects Crutchfield.
A gift from you to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will support UMCOR’s disaster-preparedness and disaster-response work in Chile and around the world.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to UMCOR.org.