A Chilean woman inspires and protects her community

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The commune of Til-Til in the province of Chacabuco. Photo: UNDP Chile/ Cerebro Audiovisual

Nancy Lulión Contreras used to be a full-time mother and wife, and spent her days, unpaid, taking care of her house and family in the Chacabuco Province, north of the Chilean capital, Santiago.

The province has several large mining businesses and the risks to its 210,000 inhabitants is growing.

A girl scouting background

Chacabuco has three communes: Lampa, Colina and Til-Til. Nancy was a scout girl throughout her childhood in Til-Til. It was these experiences and her appreciation for community and the environment that shaped her character and allowed her to understand how important leadership is for change. “I owe everything to my father, who motivated me to become a scout and who was a social leader here,” she said.

Nancy Lulión has chaired the board of neighbours — Huertos Familiaresin Til-Til since 2004, a commune which is highly vulnerable to disaster risk.

In 2005 they realized that mine dumps from big companies like Codelco, Anglo American and Polpaico were dangerously close to their homes.

“We started an investigation with Huertos Familiares and they realized that the tailings and production were much larger than we thought at first,” Nancy said.

Information was hard to come by and environmental laws were less strict than they are now. Nancy found that studying each project without being an expert and having the pressure of accurately relaying the information was difficult.

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Local families play an active role in the Huertos Familiares. UNDP Chile/Cerebro Audiovisual

Early warning

An earthquake struck in 2010 and Nancy realized the need for an early warning system.

After the change of government in 2014, she was able to talk to the new governor of the province of Chacabuco Adela Bahamondes. They eventually became close partners.

And the changes towards understanding and addressing these risks continued with a new board of directors at Anglo American. Ursula Weber took over as social development manager in the mining company. Thus three women in key positions who would face the problem.

“I believe the companies have heard the call of the people. And what is important here is that civil society is playing a fundamental role, Nancy said.

A copper mining piping ruptured in 2016, and polluted Ms. Lulion´s Colina commune, spurring her and other residents to further action.

“This generated huge public alarm because when you think of mining disasters you think of contamination, so the local community immediately reacted very strongly,” said Alberto Parra, who heads the UNDP Resilience and Territorial Development initiative in Chile.

A new beginning with UNDP

The local government and the Anglo-American mining company reached out to UNDP in 2016, in order to mediate and provide technical support. UNDP brought everyone together at the ‘Territorial Dialogue Table’.

The residents’ chief fear is the collapse of the tailing dams a mere four kilometres from their homes.

Anglo American listened. “When a company tells you that we see issues seriously, it gives you confidence. And they proposed we look for an alternative where we also felt safe to talk about these issues freely and look for an entity that would give the community confidence, and that´s where UNDP came in,” Nancy said.

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A ‘Territorial Dialogue Table’ was set up in 2016 and it’s training the private sector, civil society and local government in disaster risk. Photo; UNDP Chile

The Territorial Dialogue Table for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Sustainable Development was set up in 2016. Through the democratic dialogue methodology of UNDP, 30 representatives of the private sector, civil society and local government have been trained in DRR and it’s link with international development agendas such as Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda, and the Sendai Framework for DRR.

The partnership has developed the technical-community study ‘Analysis of Territorial Risk within the framework of Sustainable Development in the Province of Chacabuco’. As a result, the first Public-Private Coordination Plan for DRR has been developed and, as a sustainability strategy, a Public-Private Investment Plan has been prepared, strengthening resilience in the province through the social, economic and environmental intervention.

Through strong leadership, an understanding of the value that a united voice within a community can have, savvy diplomacy and hard work, Nancy Lulión Contreras drove a process that resulted in major corporations, local government, and UNDP working together with the community to ensure a sufficient risk reduction apparatus was in place. UNDP believes people should be at the centre of disaster risk reduction and recovery processes. Thanks to Nancy’s understanding of this too, her community now faces significantly less risk from disasters.


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