Chile: Officials declare State of Emergency in Valparaíso

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Officials declare State of Emergency in Valparaíso; March of the Sick calls for help with medical expenses; Drought leaves tens of thousands reliant on government water shipments

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Officials declare State of Emergency in Valparaíso

This weekend Chilean officials declared a State of Emergency in the port city of Valparaíso in the wake of forest fires there. Valparaíso Mayor Jorge Castro told the press that it was the worst fire in the history of the city, and has already destroyed more than 500 homes. Over 3,000 residents have been evacuated to nearby shelters.

Strong winds from the Pacific are complicating efforts to control the fire. The National Emergency Office (Oficina Nacional de Emergencia–ONEMI) declared a red alert for the city, after which President Michelle Bachelet signed off on a State of Emergency. As a result, members of Chile’s Navy are patrolling streets, helping with evacuation, and maintaining law and order.

Looting and insecurity following the recent devastating earthquake in Chile have many still reeling. Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said the State of Emergency will enable members of Chile’s armed forces to ‘protect and collaborate with’ evacuees.

March of the Sick calls for help with medical expenses

On Saturday over 10,000 Chileans participated in the March of the Sick (Marcha de los Enfermos) in Santiago and other cities throughout Chile. ‘Sick people march too’ (‘Los enfermos también marchan’) was the demonstration’s slogan, a reference to the many massive demonstrations that have hit Santiago streets in recent months and years.

Well-known journalist Ricarte Soto is said to have launched the movement for a national fund that would help Chileans pay for medications and care. Soto died of cancer last year, making this week’s march the first to take place without him as spokesperson and leader. Soto’s widow, Cecilia Rovaretti, led the march in her late husband’s place.

The so-called ‘Ricarte Soto Law’ would establish a national fund for medicine (Fondo Nacional de Medicamientos Solidario y Universal). The fund would be modeled on the Spanish system, which is accessible to any citizen. The proposed Chilean fund would provide supplementary funds on a sliding scale according to need.

Drought leaves tens of thousands reliant on government water shipments

Chilean newspaper La Tercera is reporting that drought conditions have left over 26,840 Chileans reliant on cisterns of water shipped to them from government supplies. Many of the water-scarce communities are in the south of the country, which until recent years was considered lush compared to Chile’s desert north.

Lack of rain during Chile’s spring and winter meant that wells were never replenished. A boom in the cultivation of pine and eucalyptus trees has further limited the water available for human consumption.

Minister of Agriculture Carlos Furche told the press this week, ‘We are analyzing in detail the information we are receiving and we are open to two possibilities: declaring a zone of emergency, which we are going to decide on next week; and the other, establishing some kind of special program through our ministry in the months to come.’ ‘We will not leave them alone,’ Furche added.