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A laboratory against exclusion in the driest desert in the world


Highlights: Chile has the highest rate of irregular and illegal occupations in the South American country. In the mining city of Antofagasta, more than 7,000 people live in the slums of informal slums. The slums have expanded to almost bite the entrance of the La Chimba National Reserve. Nationwide, nearly 114,000 households—a third of them migrants—live in informal settlements with poor sewage and access to clean water and electricity, four times more than in 2011. The national increase of families living in settlements increased last year from 7,300 to 12,800.

The transitory neighborhood Luz Divina VII, in La Chimba, one of the most emblematic poverty centers of the mining city of Antofagasta, innovates to face the housing crisis that plagues Chile

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There is a piece of Chile where three crises converge: housing, migration and the environment. This is La Chimba, one of the most emblematic poverty centers of the mining city of Antofagasta, 1,300 kilometers north of Santiago, where more than 7,000 people live. The slums of informal slums have expanded to almost bite the entrance of the La Chimba National Reserve, a desert territory famous for its biodiversity and its ravines in the foothills of the Cordillera de la Costa. Both scenarios – the shanties and the protected area – live under threat due to the constant illegal burning produced a few meters away, in what was the municipal landfill for six decades. In the midst of this complex panorama, a kind of laboratory against precariousness has been erected: the transitory neighborhoods.

Silvia Bravo, 71, is from the capital. Two decades ago he decided to leave his children's house and move to Antofagasta in search of good weather. "It never crossed my mind to rent," he confesses under the roof of his business located at the entrance of La Chimba, where he takes refuge from the inclement sun and the strong gusts of wind that raise the dust that covers everything: from the fur of abandoned dogs to cars. First he went to a settlement where, with what he earned handling food in a school, "a tremendous chalet" was built on private land located in a risk area, under the high voltage towers, in landslides. Irregular and illegal occupations in the Antofagastina region reach 9,285, the highest rate in the South American country, according to figures from the Ministry of National Assets.

At the end of 2018, Bravo became ill and was advised to move to Luz Divina VII, a transitional neighborhood designed for people to leave the settlements and live more safely until the state hands over their permanent home in five years. About 800 people live there; 144 families, 90% of them immigrants (mainly Colombians, Bolivians and Ecuadorians). All tenants are required to have regularized documentation and the signing of a loan, a bilateral contract in which one of the parties provides another with the temporary use of a product, in this case, a house.

The transitory neighborhood Luz divina VII, located in the sector of La Chimba.SOFIA YANJARI

This transitory neighborhood, one of the three that exist in La Chimba, is managed by the organization Campamento de Ideas and the Housing and Urbanization Service (Serviu). They are homes with two rooms, which were initially delivered without bathroom, on a floor of 3x6 meters and with a backyard of seven meters. They have a rigid regulation of coexistence, since one of the objectives is to prepare families who come from different sociocultural realities to respect their neighbors. "It happened a lot that when they left a camp directly to the housing solutions there was a lot of conflict due to noise, parties, garbage ...", says the administrator of Luz Divina VII, Marisel Reyes.

One of the elements that make it attractive to move from "a chalet" to a small house is that there is no risk of eviction, as is the case in settlements. Even so, there are several cases such as those of Alejandrania Guerrero, 60, and her husband Jorge Rodríguez, 57, who live illegally in La Chimba and do not intend to move from there. In 10 years, they have built a house with a terrace where their rooms are, another for the living room, kitchen and dining room and a mechanical workshop and have planted trees that already exceed the roofs. "It hurts me to go to a transient neighborhood. I would lose my workshop," says Rodriguez, who is a welder.

The region of Antofagasta increased last year by 75% the families living in settlements or camps, as they are called in Chile, doubling the national increase. In just one year, they went from 7,300 to 12,800, according to the National Cadastre of Camps 2022-2023 of the organization TECHO Chile. Nationwide, nearly 114,000 households—a third of them migrants—live in places with poor sewage and informal access to clean water and electricity, four times more than in 2011.

President Gabriel Boric reported in his Public Account made this week before Congress of the progress of the Emergency Housing Plan to deliver 260,000 homes during his term. 60,222 have already been delivered and another 131,077 are under construction, according to the president, who announced that Antofagasta will be incorporated in 2025 in the Just Cities Plan, a policy for the management of public land and develop urban-housing complexes.

La Chimba has a health clinic where they serve a maximum of 10 people a day and a scarce public transport system that ends its route at 19:00 p.m. "Access to health is almost impossible and the children who go to school in the center of Antofagasta take two hours to arrive," says Reyes, the neighborhood administrator. "Our access to water is through cistern trucks, which can be stolen. It arrives yellow or brown... It is not consumable. The population only uses it to bathe and has to buy 20-liter jerry cans to consume or to cook. A family of four occupies four a month ($60), but here we have groups of eight," explains Reyes.

Epifanía Fernandez, 51 years old, of Bolivian nationality, lives in the Sol Saliente camp.SOFIA YANJARI

Jorge Rodríguez works welding a truck in the Sol Saliente camp.SOFIA YANJARI

The transitory neighborhood 13 de Mayo is still under construction. SOFIA YANJARI

Alejandrina Guerrero, resident of the Sol Saliente camp located in the La Chimba sector.SOFIA YANJARI

The interior of the houses in the transitory neighborhood 13 de Mayo.SOFIA YANJARI

After a long negotiation, they reached an agreement with Aguas Antofagasta and from next week the homes will have access to drinking water. The entrance to electric currents works normally thanks to the regional government, but at night they do not have a luminaire.

"Before, the issue of garbage was disgusting," says Bravo, pointing to the entrance of the neighborhood, where neighbors deposited their waste forming a tower of filth. "It was a musketry with mice... Now we are super good. We're going to have water too," she adds excitedly. "It was a city-wide micro-dump in front of us. That lasted until about four months ago, which we managed to eradicate thanks to a work in union with all the leaders of the other camps, "says Reyes. The socio-environmental services company Agges recently donated the infrastructure of a clean point to the transitory neighborhood and part of the community painted the façade of what they now call "the garbage house".

The mayor of Antofagasta, Jonathan Velásquez, explains in writing to El PAÍS that the municipality is not authorized by law to remove household garbage in temporary settlements. "However, as a municipality we take care of the removal of the waste generated by these camps through an ampli-roll truck box," he says.

The garbage of the neighbors of the neighborhood is solved, but there is a much bigger problem around the corner: the one that was the municipal landfill for six decades. "The smell of the fires that comes from there is terrible, polluted air," Bravo describes. Three years ago, they closed it and buried all the waste but, because it is not fenced, debris, clothes, bottles and endless objects have accumulated again that emanate an acidic smell that pierces the nostrils. The fires have not stopped, some of them caused to remove the ferrous material from the waste and then market it.

By order of the Supreme Court, Velásquez had to prepare a definitive Closure Plan for the former La Chimba landfill, which he presented last week to the Regional Ministerial Secretariat of Health. It has three stages: the construction of a wall, security with surveillance service and control of vectors and emanations. "The latter consists of maintaining the cleaning and redisposal of waste inside," says the mayor. The municipality has until June 6 to tender the security guards and the perimeter closure.

Residents of the transitory neighborhood Divine Light VII.SOFIA YANJARI

Ernesto Espinoza, director of Campamento de Ideas, states in a tour of Luz Divina VII that "the abandonment of the State implies that many neighbors say that the burning of garbage is not their main concern, but the daily issues that hit them hardest, such as the lack of security, lighting or public services. "

Despite all the ills that afflict La Chimba, there are neighbors like Bravo, from the transitory neighborhood, who do not want the keys to their permanent home to be passed to her. Her friend Julia González, 66, is equally at ease: "What desire to leave is it going to give us? Here I have found happiness, I have my workshops, my business...", she says, referring to the entrepreneurship and digital literacy programs for women, taught by university volunteers in the community cybercafé. Right there they offer personalized and group school reinforcement.

"The idea is to empower women, who are mostly heads of household, so that when they go to their permanent home they also have tools to build their micro-enterprise," says Reyes. That is the engine of Campamento de Ideas, which was born with the hypothesis that the housing crisis was being addressed from habitability, but little from people, and launched a plan to build houses and social capital at the same time.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-06-04

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