Chile's quake: It was better prepared, but tragedy still ensued

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Americans' hearts go out in sympathy to the victims of the mighty earthquake that occurred Saturday in the Concepcion area of Chile.

This tragedy comes less than seven weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. Geologically, the two in sequence is probably not an accident. The earth is shifting under our feet, or under our seas, to some degree. The Haiti and Chile quakes will be followed by others, sooner or later.

What the two earthquakes have in common is the destruction and misery that they caused. What is entirely different is that the two countries are not the same in their ability to sustain what occurred, or to try to remedy the damage to people and property. Chile, with a population of 16.6 million, ranks in the range of countries like the Czech Republic and Malaysia in terms of the strength of its economy. Haiti, with 9 million people, is by contrast the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, plagued for many years by bad government and severe underdevelopment.

That doesn't mean that Chile doesn't need help in this time of severe need. It has asked the United States for assistance with communications and field hospitals, for example. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who by chance is traveling in Latin America at the moment, has pledged a rapid and effective U.S. response.

It is also the case that, with its earthquake preceding Chile's, Haiti has had first cut at the attention of not only governments, but also the various other organizations that respond in such situations.

One of the elements in Chile and Haiti that will need close oversight as they try to recover from the tragedies is the question of reconstruction. It must be done in a way that will make the countries less vulnerable to future cataclysms. Chile already had a strict building code that was supposed to assure that structures survived earthquakes. The result was a level of destruction that was not as comprehensive or severe as that in Haiti, although it appears that, as a result of some deregulation, some newer buildings in Chile were not built to the strict code that used to be the rule. The situation in Haiti in regard to building codes reflected the shambles that reigns throughout Haitian society.

When it comes to reconstruction funds, international providers have not only a right but even a duty to see that new buildings are constructed and repairs to existing structures are made in anticipation of future earthquakes. Even so, the people of both countries deserve all the help that big-hearted Americans can provide.


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