How Chile Escaped Haiti's Aftermath

Superior infrastructure, and a fair amount of luck

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Following closely on Haiti's disaster, the earthquake in Chile was stronger, yet inflicted far less damage. Why? Chile's infrastructure is better, observers say--but luck, population density, and differences in corruption also played a part.

  • The Difference: Corruption  Time's Tim Padgett notes that "on the global corruption index put out by Transparency International ... Chile ranks 25th and Haiti 168th." The Chilean government mandated "rigorous [building] codes ... requiring that materials like rubber and features like counterweights be built into the architectural designs to allow buildings to bend and sway rather than break during temblors." Meanwhile, in Haiti, building involved "little if any input from engineers and plenty of bribes to so-called government inspectors." Padgett rebuts "apologists" who think it unfair to compare the two countries: It's not that "Chile can do things right ... because it's more developed," but that "Chile is more developed because it's doing things right." Aid to Haiti, he argues, needs to include terms for improving its "abysmal governance."
  • A Number of Differences  "The Haitian disaster," says Joshua Robinson at The Daily Beast, "leveled the dense, urban capital of a poverty-stricken nation, filled with shoddy buildings that were lucky to be standing in the first place. Chile's ... struck a less densely populated area in a country that was better prepared." Also, aside from there better emergency measures in place, "there are many more ways to get help into the country--Chile has the advantages of functional airports and not being an island."
  • A Bit of Luck, Too  Though Chile's earthquake was stronger, observes Frank Bajak at The Huffington Post, it was also "centered offshore an estimated 21 miles (34 kilometers) underground in a relatively unpopulated area while Haiti's tectonic mayhem struck closer to the surface--about 8 miles (13 kilometers)--and right on the edge of Port-au-Prince." Add that to Chile's relative wealth and "long history of handling seismic catastrophes" and the difference in damage is little surprise.
  • Tragic Injustice, mourns an indignantly irate Gilbert Mercier at News Junkie Post. "What is really in the balance here, between a few thousands killed, in the case of Chile, and the 230,000 people in the case of Haiti is the disparity and humanely despicable injustice between 1st world nations such as Chile and 3rd world's ones such as Haiti."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.