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Firefighters tried to contain the spread of wildfires in Viña del Mar, Chile, Feb. 4. The death toll from wildfires that ravaged central Chile for several days, begnning Feb. 2, increased to 131 Feb. 6, and hundreds of people were still missing as the blazes appeared to be burning themselves out.
Firefighters tried to contain the spread of wildfires in Viña del Mar, Chile, Feb. 4. The death toll from wildfires that ravaged central Chile for several days, begnning Feb. 2, increased to 131 Feb. 6, and hundreds of people were still missing as the blazes appeared to be burning themselves out.
Photo Credit: Sofia Yanjari | Reuters

Caritas Chile, CRS join forces to provide humanitarian aid amid emergency in Chile

Devastating wildfires in Chile have killed more than 130 people, with many still missing.

Soon after aerial images recorded the devastation caused by wildfires in the province of Valparaíso and other regions of south-central Chile since Feb. 2, local authorities and international agencies have multiplied their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the communities where fatalities, missing persons and material losses increase with each passing day.

Lorenzo Figueroa, director of Caritas Chile, spoke about what he called a tremendous catastrophe. “The damage has been, first, in human lives, and so far, we have 131 official victims” as of Feb. 6, he said. He explained that the number of missing persons is undetermined, as is the extent of the material losses.

A woman lies amid the remains of her burned house following the spread of wildfires in Viña del Mar, Chile, Feb. 4. The death toll from wildfires that ravaged central Chile for several days, beginning Feb. 2, increased to 131 Feb. 6, and hundreds of people were still missing as the blazes appeared to be burning themselves out.
Photo Credits: OSV News photo/Sofia Yanjari, Reuters
“There is talk of up to 20,000 houses affected,” said Figueroa, for whom psychological damage also is a determining factor during and after these emergencies.

“It is part of our protocol at Caritas because our principle of humanitarian action is integral and includes the mental health dimension,” he said. “We have advanced in this process, where the help of CRS (Catholic Relief Services) has been key to defining paths so that no relevant aspect is left out.”

Figueroa also spoke of essential solidarity, with those affected wanting to help remove debris. “They are united and that is why I want to put that note of hope (out there) because I believe that when one thinks of aid, it is also important to know that it is sustained by an atmosphere of hope” by how the affected people themselves work together, he said.

Figueroa highlighted the community’s participation in the recovery and assistance efforts amid this natural and human tragedy. “Their knowledge, their experience. They know their territory and are active protagonists,” he explained. “These are skills that remain. Because when we leave, the community is no longer the same because they remain organized” in the recovery and in the face of future emergencies.

For Figueroa, the support of other organizations is fundamental, not only financially but also in terms of experience, training and human resources, which add up when it comes to providing the necessary support to the victims.

“The action of Caritas all over the world is an expression of humanitarian action in which we express ourselves as a family, and the help of CRS and USAID allows us to take care of our common home, our people and those most in need because all this has a powerful effect,” Figueroa said. For him, these acts of solidarity demonstrate human fraternity.

He said that even small contributions can prove to be life-saving, things like radio equipment, a refrigerator for insulin-dependent people, an electric generator and water tanks.

Caritas Chile is coordinating with the neighborhood councils, communities, churches, parishes and municipalities in the affected areas. It has set up collection centers in parishes, sports clubs and neighborhood councils to help those who lost their homes.The agency also coordinates with civil society organizations to avoid duplication of efforts and try to cover all the affected sectors.


Those who wish to help those affected by the wildfires can do so through CRS, support.crs.org/donate/chile-wildfires.


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