Desaster Relief in Chile:

When Mother Earth Speaks

After a flood in the Atacama desert in March 2015, a huge area was covered with poisonous mud produced by the mining industry. The Aldea Domo community could help with geodesic domes. Carolina Miranda and Felipe Baltra found out that a disaster is a huge lesson from Mother Earth.

The Region of Atacama is the driest desert in the world. In this arid and sparsely vegetated place in view of the Andes Mountains, it never rains; or only a few millimeters per year. This year in the month of March there were four days of constant rain. At the same time the snow level rose to more than 3000 meters; the normal level is 1000m.
This situation caused floods that left the land covered with mud and toxic waste in three locations in the region. Numerous homes, businesses, schools and social centers were covered with mud.
In spite of the activities of the Chilean Government, nobody knew what was really going on, as all information coming from that region is shaped by the powerful mining companies located in the area.

The Ministry of Health contacted us to pick up three emergency geodesic domes which could be used as community centers. We had previously built three domes of 8m in diameter with prefabricated foundations, beams and wooden floors. The wooden structure of the domes is covered with tent cloth and equipped with a photovoltaic system. We trained community leaders how to build geodesic emergency domes, and were able to show a photo exhibition on sustainable communities in Chañaral and thus to sow dreams.

When we reached the area we discovered how complex and unsustainable are the communities of this area. They emerge under the wing of the mining sector, living around this area on infertile land and without even a minimal design that would allow for working on the land for future food production. Everything needed is brought in from the outside. The location of settlements was made without any observation or respect for nature. Neighborhoods were built in riverbeds, even in places where traces show that villages were destroyed by floods a hundred years ago.
A beautiful story is that of the grandmother who warned her children not to cut down an old tree in their yard during the flood. She went to all her family, and in the end, the tree stood in the way of an avalanche and saved their lives. This ancient wisdom was kept in this area by some indigenous communities in the Coya high mountains. They are still living on their own land, with pure water, crops and animals.

The presence of mining can be felt everywhere. The propaganda gives the image that cities are upholstered in the the post flood reconstruction. Radio and television present the work in an unreal way. But listening to the people, we perceived their concern about the mud which is removed from the houses. They feel alone with the responsibility of mine tailings everywhere. And nobody in the media spoke of the high level of water pollution. No one doubts that soil and water is contaminated by tailings. There are thousands of tons of abandoned material removed from the hills without any control or responsibility.

This whole situation made the communities see the, so far, hidden impacts of the mining industry. They started to reflect about the mining taxes, the quality of life in the country and the expenses under which all that is achieved, at the cost of the living conditions of these locations. The disaster made people realize that they had been drinking contaminated water. Now they only drink purified bottled water, but this still is unsustainable.

The catastrophe also hit the hearts of people, who gave aid support in the area, as single volunteers or in groups.We welcomed students who stayed in shelters with the affected families. We shared healthy and vegetarian food with other groups. Others played with or made workshops for children. Permaculturists helped to reconstruct houses and gardens. University students and NGOs recovered public spaces and green areas for children.

It took little time to build our constructions, but they will be in use for a long while. They will serve as offices for different social grassroots groups. One of them is located in a new town of emergency housing, a new human settlement. We pray and hope that this situation empowers citizens to continue meeting their own needs and finding solutions including dry compost latrines, biofilters and other techniques of sustainable living.

In these hard times you hear the voice of the Earth which shows what we as humans have done on this planet. In turn it gives us the opportunity to re-think how we design our environment and reflect on our lifestyles. Creatively, we generate a global consciousness shift, as Pope Francisco has expressed in his encyclical Laudato. In recognizing that the Earth is a living being, its resources should not be wasted. The current system of consumerism leads to the death of what he calls the "common home". Today, after five centuries the Church recognizes the wisdom of the ancient people of America and the world. Let´s return to our origins and live together again.

Read more details of how we are doing it here:



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