“One came here for a reason, there are more than 900 families here and each one of them has a story, or do you think we came here for fun?” Says Verónica Villegas, 58, leader of one of the largest camps from Chile, informal settlements that went from hosting 47,050 families in 2019 to 81,643 today, a process aggravated by the pandemic.

The increase is 74%, according to the National Cadastre of last March, a figure that contrasts with the increase, also of 74%, experienced by the wealth of the eight largest fortunes of Chile, accumulating more than 40.3 billion dollars, data that illustrates how the elastic of inequality stretches in times of pandemic.

Verónica finds these differences “scandalous”, at least, and has been a direct witness of how Camp Felipe Camiroaga – named after a beloved television host who died in a plane crash in 2011 – every day more people arrive in search of future, expanding a house or building another among the ravines of Viña del Mar, 122 kilometers from the capital.

The Chilean economy has been hit hard by the health crisis: according to World Bank figures, 2.3 million people went from the middle class to poverty, and Verónica, who has been unemployed for more than a year, says not having received tax aid: “I just don’t qualify,” he explains, referring to the requirements established by the Government to access the bonds.

The camps, known in other countries as “shanty towns”, “lost cities” or “favelas”, are generally located in remote areas: next to garbage dumps, railway lines, highways or gorges; In addition, they suffer from the lack of at least one of the three basic services: formal sewerage, electricity and / or drinking water.

They, says Sebastián Bowen, executive director of the Fundación Techo and Fundación Vivienda -the entity that prepared the cadastre-, are the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex problem, with “access to housing being the most painful, secretive and dramatic disease what we have in Chile”.

From 2011 on, when the number of camps registered 20 years of steady decline, something changed, and each year about three thousand families moved to inhabit these settlements.

But after 2019, after the social outbreak that seriously shook the country and the arrival of covid-19, the figures soared: the camps increased by 20.8% and the number of families living in them grew, with more than 57,000 children under 14 years of age among its members.

Bowen tells Efe a common factor that is found by analyzing the data: “Three out of every four families who live in camps previously lived another type of housing exclusion, either as relatives, crowded or with informal rent, among other forms.”

In addition, he adds, “30% of the families declare that their reason for arriving there is an increase in the rental price, which they could not pay,” a situation “closely related to the increase in the price of land in Chile that has doubled in 15 years ”.

“There is a link between the population in camps and the population living in conditions of housing exclusion in the city. The camp is showing us a symptom, it is a fever and since 2011 the fever is increasing, ”says Bowen.

“Chile is bad,” says María Tapia, 58, leader of the Manuel Bustos Camp, the largest in the country, which housed more than 1,280 families in Viña del Mar until 2019, which together with Valparaíso are the communes with greater concentration of informal settlements.

“We are invisible, you don’t look at the hills of this city, and everywhere the housing deficit is terrible,” says María.

Bowen agrees. The camps, he says, “are the tip of that great iceberg that is reflected in the housing deficit that today affects approximately 600,000 families,” that is, 10% of the Chilean population’s homes.

And it is that in Chile “The price of land exploded,” says Bowen, adding that “the structural factors of this problem have not been addressed, on the contrary, they have become more acute.”

“This generates even greater territorial segregation of that population that does not have the purchasing power to enter the land or housing through the market,” he says.

For his part, the Minister of Housing and Urban Planning, Felipe Ward, told the local press that they are working on the creation of a land bank, “all public land that is not being used and that is suitable for housing.”

At the end of 2020, Chile ranked as the third country with the highest job loss in the world, only after Peru and Costa Rica.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, in the first half of this year the unemployment rate in Chile stood at 10.3%, while the second wave of the pandemic adds more than 4,800 cases daily and the death toll rises to more of 26,600.

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