Chile: focus on the National Committee for the Defense of Flora and Fauna
Claudia Villaman is Executive Director of CODEFF in Chile
CODEFF, the national committee for the defence of flora and fauna, was started in Chile in 1968 and is the country’s oldest environmental NGO. Its mission was to achive sustainable development by citizen participation. We currently have 4,500 members, 20 volunteers and six paid employees. In 1997 we became a part of FoEI. This has enabled us to finance projects related to the citizen participation and communication and diffusion of environmental issues in Latin America.
Today we have five branches in the south of Chile which carry out technical work and research. For example, our branch in Italca is working on a project to preserve the Huemul, an endangered species which looks like a deer and which is on our national symbol. Another branch is the Aysen one in Patagonia, which works to preserve the region and prevent the destruction of dams to generate electricity. These dams would destroy 2,300 square kilometres of land and with it many indigenous plants and animals.
We have various campaigns: recycling and responsible consumption; climate change and justice, for which we work closely with FoEI; and protecting the national heritage of Santiago and its surroundings.
We are very proud of what we have achieved so far. In 1999 we have received a United Nations prize in the battle against desertification, which threatens 60% of Chile. This was the work of one of our scientists.
In 2002 we created protected areas to try to redress the damages inflicted on nature by humans. In one such area, Curiñanco, we perform studies to improve the preservation of flora and fauna here. We have foxes and rabbits and other species, but most importantly we are able to preserve types of forest which are only found here in Chile.
In 2003 in the Aysen region we managed to stop a large-scale project to build a dam by an aluminium company called. This would have damaged most of the nature in the surroundings.
Since Chile is not as developed as some nations, large financial powers from other countries can come to construct and develop projects that don’t respect the environment. There are few laws so minimal protection against environmental damage. The natural capital of this country is being destroyed, and the lack of interest from the politicians and those who do have information on the environmental situation makes thing worse. The population is very ill-informed on these issues, which is a pity when you see how much ecological potential Chile has. We hope that Patagonia will soon be declared a UN Natural World Heritage Site, thereby protecting it in the future.
Who is Claudia Villaman?
This is my first job in an environmental NGO. I used to work at the city hall in Geneva, Switzerland, where I worked on the local Agenda 21 sustainable development programme.
I have been executive director of CODEFF for seven months. I coordinate and supervise activities, strengthen links and align our work with internal (regional branches) and external (government and NGOs) bodies.
Since being here I have re-opened the library. Now, more than 500 books are available to read for free. I also have a meeting next week with a company to finance some activities of CODEFF. This move already indicates something is changing since it is not common for a company to even think about financing an environmental NGO.
The preservation and protection of the environment is what motivates me to work for CODEFF. We feel very proud when, for example, universities call us for advice or to be given a course on climate change. It is very motivating to spread the message.
The most disappointing thing about my job is the lack of financial resources. The government is not involved enough in environmental issues and prefers to side with financial power such as banks and multinationals.