My feet are stuck in two fields of research: that of community resilience and humanitarian logistics and supply chain management (HLSCM). Disaster relief within HLSCM studies how the aid can and should be provided and often the focus on actors external to the affected communities. Meanwhile, community resilience studies how the affected communities prepare for, face and recover from disasters. The year 2015 I spent in Chile studying the reconstruction after the urban-forestal fire that spread across the hills of Valparaíso in April 2014. This blog entry is a brief introduction to the city and the fire that spread across its hills and my field research in Chile.
Valparaíso is a Chilean port city, famous for its three dozen steep hills and colorfully painted houses built into the steep slopes. Its architecture, exquisite graffiti and vibrant atmosphere have earned it a UNESCO status. Valparaíso has a neighborhood spirit lingering over it that the locals say other cities, such as Santiago, have lost. There are only a few bigger supermarkets and people continue to buy their groceries from the corner shops and the market places. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is in Valparaíso and the city is famous for its cultural scene.
A roof-top view over the Valparaíso and its port, 2015.
In April 2014 a fire spread over the hills of Valparaíso, advancing both in the forest, as well as on the inhabited hills of the city. The fire in Valparaíso could be attributed to both natural and man-made causes: for example, the soil and trees were dry after the summer and trash had been gathering into the ravines between the hills. The official trigger of the fire was pointed at birds that had caught fire while sitting on the electricity lines. While the red glowing inferno of the fire was a haunting sight and phenomenon, the hazard was just the spark that started the disaster for the over 12 000 affected people.
Disaster relief is categorized into different phases that the affected community goes through. The hazard sparks the immediate response in the community, after which recovery and future disaster preparedness follow. These phases are intertwined. For example, the urgent fulfilment of basic needs that characterizes the immediate response overlaps with reconstruction, and future earthquake preparedness is built into the infrastructures during reconstruction from the previous earthquake. The external actors supporting each phase change or shift their focuses, but – at least in theory - the community persists.