Chile vs. Haiti: A Lesson in Preparedness

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on February 27th was over 1,000 times stronger than the one that struck Haiti in January yet the casualties and overall damage are nowhere near as severe in Chile. The Chile earthquake death toll is currently estimated at 795, whereas the January earthquake in Haiti killed over 220,000.

This difference can be attributed to several key factors. Chile is the most developed country in Latin America; Haiti, the poorest. Chile is also the most seismically active country in the world. Despite this, greater wealth, strict building codes, and a greater cultural awareness of earthquakes make Chile far more prepared than Haiti.

In Chile schoolchildren rehearse earthquake evacuation drills along with fire drills. In Haiti many people were unaware of what they were supposed to do in the event of an earthquake.

The proximity of Haiti’s earthquake to its primary population center is another important factor. The epicenter of the earthquake was only 16 miles from the capitol Port-au-Prince—a tragic coincidence. In Chile the effected areas had less dense populations and therefore caused less destruction.

Many see this as an opportunity to improve Haiti. Haiti sits on an active geological fault, and future earthquakes are inevitable. In order to prevent unnecessary destruction in the future Haitian cities need to be redesigned and rebuilt to endure future earthquakes.

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