On Saturday 27 February at 6.34am GMT a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile causing significant loss of life and massive damage to buildings and key infrastructure. The quake occurred under the sea floor at a depth of over 21 miles and 70 miles north of Conception, the nearest large population centre. The city and the surrounding urban areas are home to nearly 900,000 people. The resulting tsunami caused serious additional damage and loss of life in Chilean coastal settlements but its affects across the Pacific Ocean seem to have been comparatively limited.
The Government of Chile has reported that 708 people have been confirmed to have been killed and has called for specific types of international assistance including field hospitals, water purification plant, and specialist search and rescue teams. One and half million homes are believed to have been damaged. One US risk assessor, Eqecat, put the cost of the damage at between $15bn and $30bn (£9.8bn-£19.6bn) or 10-20% of Chile’s Gross Domestic Product. As a result, Chile will almost certainly need substantial assistance from the international community to fund longer term rebuilding efforts.
Chile has for many years enforced building codes which have made modern buildings significantly more earthquake resistant and has placed great emphasis on emergency preparedness and response capacity. The country has a long history of seismic activity and the 1960 Valdivia earthquake was one of the largest ever recorded at magnitude 9.5 and killed more than 2000 people.
Several DEC agencies and their partners have already said they will respond including CAFOD, Save the Children, Oxfam and the Red Cross. Other member agencies are assessing where they may be able to offer support given the already significant capacity of the Chilean government to respond. The DEC will continue to monitor the situation with its members and will assess it against our criteria for launching an appeal.
Although it is inevitable that comparisons will be made with the Haiti quake there are very significant differences that are worth noting:
- The Chilean earthquake was many times more powerful than the Haiti quake but it occurred at a greater depth and much further away from major centres of population.
- Chile has suffered devastating earthquakes in living memory and has had the resources to ensure modern buildings were constructed to high standards of earthquake resistance and that it was well prepared to response to natural disasters.
- Chile has been ranked as the 44th most developed country in the world in the UN’s Human Development Index while Haiti was ranked 149th. The measure covers life expectancy, education and standard of living.
DEC member appeals for Chile: