Studying the impact of natural disasters on the population, particularly in the sectors furthest from the big cities, is the goal pursued by a young anthropologist from Lajina, who in January 2023 will travel to England for three years to conducted a PhD on this topic.
This is Francisca Vergara (29), who, in an interview with Radio San Cristóbal, told the details of the scholarship awarded to her in Institute for Humanitarian Aid and Conflict Response, from the University of Manchester, England; and her motivations as a professional in this new challenge that, although it is a direct benefit to her, she assures: “it will help a lot of people.”
Francisca Vergara is a socio-cultural anthropologist from the University of Concepción, has a Master’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Los Lagos (Osorno) and since 2018 has been working on issues related to socio-natural disasters, both individually and with work teams. bringing anthropology closer to the earth sciences. Today he is part of the Group of Specialists in Volcanology of the Geological Society of Chile.
As an anthropologist, she seeks to emphasize the need to understand the social reality of territories exposed to natural threats from the perspective of those who live there (in terms of their perceptions of risk, their vulnerability, cultural diversity, social fabric, memory and capacities). ), as a starting point for designing disaster risk reduction measures and strategies that are meaningful and relevant to communities.
At the moment, Vergara pointed out, it is not natural phenomena that have a strong impact on society, but rather how it is prepared for these events. “For several decades, there has been a change in the understanding of these phenomena. They are now called socio-natural disasters because they are caused solely by human responsibility in the face of these phenomena and the level of preparation we have as a society to face their impacts.
In this framework, he decided to apply for a scholarship abroad so that he could advance in the study of these social phenomena. “I applied for a PhD and received a scholarship to conduct a three-year investigation that will begin in January 2023. My focus will be on studying and strengthening community preparedness for volcanic eruptions in southern Chile. The results can be applied to different cases, for example the Antuco volcano and the management of its hazards to the surrounding populations,” he said.
Chile and the Andes mountain range – noted the professional – is a natural laboratory for studying the interaction of natural phenomena and the response that society gives to cope with their impacts.
Likewise, it is an opportunity to help many people from more remote sectors who may be threatened by the ravages of nature. “We have a country that is quite centralized in these matters, in terms of disaster management we are not all prepared at the same level. For example, an earthquake that has an epicenter and can be felt in different regions, not all regions will be affected in the same way because there are different vulnerabilities,” he explained.
Francisca has published various studies on this issue in scientific journals, among which the following stand out: The socio-cultural effects of the forest fire in the Dead China Reserve in 2015; The psychosocial impact of the Malloa 2022 flood on rural families; and The perceptions and risk perceptions of rural communities that live near volcanoes and whose livelihoods depend on these volcanic environments (Carrán-Los Venados, Puyehue-Cordón Caulle and Lonquimay Volcano).
It should be noted that these volcanoes are part of Sernageomin’s specific risk ranking for active volcanoes, which places them among the 14 most dangerous nationally.
Francisca agreed to tell her story on Radio San Cristóbal, as she confided that from a very young age she dreamed of studying anthropology, an unusual career if you ask an 11 or 12-year-old girl. However, she specified that her family living in Laha was affected by the floods in 2006. And her question – as a child – was how after a natural disaster there are communities that can deal with it and bounce back quickly. and others that it is a disaster. The answer is today with training, and the key is to be prepared, he pointed out.
“Volcanic eruptions, landslides and earthquakes will continue to be part of our reality and our own region may face such a problem in the future.” Being prepared for this is essential and this is what motivates me to go so far to specialize and come back to contribute to these issues.
Francisca urged other young people from the municipalities and the province to follow their dreams, as this is always possible. “I think it is valuable to be able to demonstrate with my case that it is possible for people from small towns (like Laja) to have the opportunity to receive scholarships and study abroad, with the commitment to pay back what they have learned in my own country.”
Watch the full interview here: