There has been quite a bit of rain in the arid northern desert region of Chile this week. The amount forecast was “moderate,” but the amount that fell was disastrous. As of today, ten people have died as a result of flooding, and dozens are still missing. It is a disaster on top of disaster, since a volcano is already erupting and there are 40 wildfires burning in the south. 

Everyone is talking about how awful it is. Kids at our children’s school have family members who work in the mining industry up north, and within 24 hours of the start of flooding people were asking what we were going to do as a community to help out. 

Chileans are great at mobilizing individual contributions in the face of disaster. As I mentioned, this country is no stranger to the whims of nature – be they fire, flood, earthquake, or something else. Schools, churches, companies, and neighborhoods are gathering supplies to send north. Ryan suggested that this level of solidarity exists because most people here have lived through some sort of emergency themselves, and I agree. 

Our school is doing a “lightning campaign” on Monday and Tuesday to collect toiletries, diapers, blankets, and big jugs of water. I took the photo above at the supermarket yesterday. You’ll notice that there is plenty of water, but the bottom shelf – where they typically stock the 5 liter jugs we are being asked to send north – is picked almost clean (and yes, that lone jug found its way into my cart). I saw three other people in the diaper aisle doing the same thing as I was; namely, buying a few packs in different sizes, clearly not for a baby at home. One lady’s cart was totally filled with an assortment of diapers and formula. Unless she runs an orphanage, she was buying that stuff to send north. 

Stores across the country are selling out of the water jugs in particular. So many people want to do something to help. 

The government has been criticized for being unprepared to deal with the disaster. As I drove home from the store, I listened to two commentators hold forth on the radio about their view of the crisis. One said that she found it “ridiculous” that people in Santiago should be buying water and sending it to the north instead of the government being equipped to supply the affected regions with aid. 

I can certainly see her point. But what she’s missing here is that people have an almost urgent need to collaborate and do something tangible to ease the suffering of these people. Yes, Chile could use a few more helicopters and a strategic supply warehouse. But the human impulse to give? That’s far from ridiculous.