SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s recent forest fire destroyed approximately 2,000 homes when it burned through Valparaiso. An estimated 8,000 people were left homeless in Chile. This fire was the most recent of the natural disasters to strike the South American country this April.
More than 15 people were killed in this fire, adding to the six already killed during Chile’s 8.2 magnitude earthquake late April 1.
Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet stated that although the wildfire was a tremendous tragedy, it also brings opportunity for Valparaiso to be rebuilt “in a more orderly manner, better and more worthy” of it’s ranking as a World Heritage City.
Sadly many of the streets in the old city were too narrow to allow fire trucks to maneuver down, making the houses inaccessible. Meteorologists also cite the geography of Valparaiso as part of the reason it was so vulnerable to fire spreading.
Nick Wiltgen, meteorologist, stated, “Valparaiso is sandwiched between steep hillsides to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the North…South winds have been blowing the fire from the hills into the city.”
Experts are blaming the government for not controlling the growth and illegal building within the city, which has caused homes to be built on risky hills putting lives in danger.
Following the forest fire 10,000 people had to be evacuated from Valparaiso, and many are returning to their old homes that are in rubble and are currently working to rebuild their lives.
Unfortunately, homelessness is common following natural disasters. Those who face displacement after a natural disaster are given more assistance than those facing homelessness from other causes, but many times victims of natural disaster are left waiting for help that may never be given.
In 2010 the number of displaced individuals doubled from that of 2009. Worldwide 42 million people lost their permanent homes following extreme weather, including storms, forest fires, flooding and earthquakes.
These extreme weather disasters are increasing and uprooting the lives of millions who are already living with very little. Climate change has been coined a “threat multiplier,” a hazard that snowballs into many other events: it begins by forcing people to become homeless, jobless and without resources, and then forces economies to become strained.
The secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Elisabeth Rasmusson states, “The intensity and frequency of extreme weather events is increasing, and this trend is only set to continue. With all probability, the number of those affected and displaced will rise as human-induced climate change comes into full force.”
People who have lost their homes due to climate disasters, or “climate refugees,” are putting pressure on governments worldwide to act upon the constantly changing climate, as the connection between homelessness and natural disaster is becoming progressively clearer.