ISDR Informs - The Americas

The Paradoxes of the Pilot

The workshops on the micro-zoning of risk and resources have brought together age-old customs and the technical management of disasters resulting from natural hazards.
The Pilot Programme for Community Participation with Native Peoples, of the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior in Chile, aims to strengthen existing self-management tools as well as the local management of indigenous communities, in order to improve the quality of life of those who live in remote rural areas. The pilot programme began in May 2006 and focused its activities on the Mapuche communities of Lake Budi, within the municipality of Saavedra (ninth region), located about 750 km. from Santiago.
During 2006, four workshops were held on the micro-zoning of risk and resources. These activities took place in four communities (Puaucho, Collileufu Chico, Collileufu Grande, and Deume) and brought together some 60 people, including ten community leaders. The second phase of the program is currently underway and includes follow-up to community emergency plans, coordination with the local government, and the incorporation of three additional communities into the micro-zoning process.
All this falls within Priority 3 of the Hyogo Framework for Action of using knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
During the first months of the Pilot Programme for Community Participation in Risk Prevention in Indigenous Communities of Chile, of the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI), the Mapuche communities of Lake Budi (ninth region), showed a surprising receptiveness to and a significant understanding of the programme objectives. Many people from the pilot programme’s beneficiary locations became involved in the Civil Protection Community Committees, which are currently taking on the tasks of risk prevention .

María Rosa Verdejo, Consuelo Cornejo, and Alejandra Riquelme are the professionals from ONEMI’s technical department in charge of the program. They lived for several weeks in the local Mapuche communities in order to adjust the methodologies and technical structures used to recognize risks due to natural hazards or provoked by mankind and, in this way, design the strategies accordingly.
In 2006, after the conclusion of the research phase, four workshops were held on the micro-zoning of risk and resources. These activities were carried out in four Mapuche communities: Puaucho, Collileufu Chico, Collileufu Grande, and Deume.
After the workshop in Puaucho in August 2006, one of the community leaders, Braulio Ancan, said: “We looked at several topics during the workshop. We talked about the possibility that the sea would rise as it did in 1960. We also talked about fires and earthquakes. During these days, we developed a map of the community territory, in which we identified the areas of greatest risk and the places where we would be the safest if a disaster occurred. What we have done is prepare ourselves because, on our own, we cannot imagine what might happen nor can we think of the solutions. Now, the idea is that we will be prepared, rather than just sitting around waiting for things to happen to us.”

Affinity amid differences
Why was the receptiveness to the program so surprising in the Saavedra municipality? In the first place, because poverty-stricken communities such as those of Mapuche communities, tend to live from day to day. These beliefs make it difficult to focus on preoccupations of the future, such as that of risk prevention much less on organizing themselves for the occurrence of disasters. In addition, certain fatalistic opinions often prevail among these groups with respect to their situation of poverty and isolation. This “magic consciousness,” as the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire called it, causes people to passively await the dictates of their fate, which they believe is arbitrary and beyond their control. Trying to influence the future by reducing risks and uncertainty—which is what prevention is—does not fit within this psychological environment. Nevertheless, the Mapuche communities do have a spiritual connection with nature, which is an important part of their religious world view. They consider themselves part of nature.

To the Mapuche, nature is all-powerful. It is the faithful companion of what is to come and of their daily lives. The behavior of the birds, the direction of the wind, and the roar of the sea are all signs that must be studied. These are signs of climate changes, of a different type of hazard that can threaten human beings. Participants of the workshop held in October 2006, in the Collileufu Grande community recalled the following: “When the birds fly north it is because they are looking for water; if they come back the same day, it means they did not find it.” “When we get long, hard rains, it is because Mankean1 has gotten angry.” “Before the tidal wave in 1960, the roosters were crowing at all hours; that was their warning.” They also referred to the fact that “the earth continued to shake but the communities got together up on the hill to pray. Day and night, we danced around the Rewe. 2 Little by little the sea began to calm. The earth continued to shake, but the sea was calmer.”

According to this view, nature recovers its balance spontaneously, but people should understand the dissociations between natural elements in order to protect themselves.
The Mapuche communities live in relatively remote areas. These are disperse populations who live in small groupings of houses that are generally at the mercy of nature. They are even more vulnerable when they are not connected to existing support and protection systems. Mutual aid and solidarity help make up for the lack of communication with the outside world and for their precarious living conditions. As often happens with groups who live in poverty, the maxim that prevails in these communities is: “I help you today and others will help me tomorrow.”

During the workshop held in October 2006 in the Collileufu Grande community, the local machi 3 Elena Calfupan told us: “The communities support each other and they are always showing it. People always help each other out when there is some kind of disaster. When something happens, people get together, they collect aid, and they take it to the people who need it. Things happen all of a sudden. You never know the day or the time when something will happen, but people respond anyway. No one is alone.”

Interculturality on the ground
The workshops on the micro-zoning of risk and resources have been carried out in a very appropriate fashion, which has made possible the establishment of a solid working relationship between the customs of the Mapuche communities and the goals of the Pilot Program for Community Participation. Workshop leaders have been willing to work side by side, listen to, and follow the pace of the participants. Their goal has been to fuse age-old traditions with technical work. The amount of time devoted to reach this level of fusion has proven important for the work being done, since oral stories and tales have turned out to be essential for assimilating the history of the communities, learning about the environment through their eyes, and keeping in mind their systems of signals and the ways they react to adverse situations. The instructors stated that “with this knowledge, we have been able to combine and weave together information and the technical management of natural disasters. We have been able to talk in more detail about the various situations they are exposed to and work together to discover the best ways to cope with them. We can also appeal to the community’s sense of solidarity, the great resource that exists among the members of each community and between the various communities as a whole. In the end, all this helps us develop prevention strategies based on the organization of Civil Protection Community Committees, which have already been recognized by the municipality.”

The experience of this pilot programme has also been significant for the Mapuche communities. As María Nahuel, a community leader from Collielefu Grande, stressed at the closing of the October 2006 workshop in her community:
“This is the first time that a training of this kind has been carried out. You have all heard about our reality. I have had a lot of training as a leader, but this is the first time that we have addressed this issue. It is the first time we have been helped to reflect on what is happening to us and how we can improve ourselves. This has been very good and has helped us prioritize our needs, learn that it is not normal to live the way we live, and that we can improve things with our own resources. I also think it is  positive that a committee is being formed with participants from various communities, because that unites us. Outside aid does not always unite us, rather, it separates us. People say that they have learned a lot. It was interesting for them because you explained things well, with patience. That’s why so many people came to the workshop.”
Obviously we cannot expect these workshops to do away with conditions of dependency or the communities’ inclination to establish a ‘clientelistic’ relationship with outside groups, especially if these are agencies of the State. However, risk prevention is proving to be a work area that is helping connect two resources that already exist in the Mapuche community: a sophisticated understanding of nature and its forces, and a tendency towards solidarity among themselves.
For further information, please contact:
Verónica Hidalgo

1Mankean =The Lord of the Sea, according to Mapuche legends.
2Rewe =A tree trunk (laurel, maqui, or cinnamon tree) with the bark removed, which is carved in sections and placed on the ground, in front of the door of the machi—or folk healer’s—home. It is an instrument and a symbol. In some places and on occasions, it is also a type of coat of arms or a symbol representing a certain community or sector.
3Machi = medicine woman in the community.