Chile still living with quake effects

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Date: 27 Feb 2012

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas (UNISDR AM)

GENEVA, 27 February 2012 - The repercussions from the deadly earthquake and tsunami which hit Chile two years ago continue to play out in the country's courts and in expressions of frustration at the pace of reconstruction.

Nonetheless, Deputy President, Felipe Kast, said today that 2012 will be "the year of delivery" when he officiated at the handing over of 91 houses to former residents of the razed town of Dichato.

At the same time some 100 residents of the former town of Cordillera de Rancagua occupied the Serviu offices of Housing and Urban Services to protest what they claimed was the late delivery of their new homes but were told the houses would be ready by Friday once the deeds had been signed.

Over 100 temporary villages sprang up after the earthquake to house over 4,000 families who were among the worst-affected and their living conditions remain difficult. 50,000 homes are now being built.

The Attorney General's Office announced earlier this month that eight people including National Emergency Office staff are to be prosecuted for "criminal negligence...for their participation in decision-making by technical agencies charged with issuing and disseminating tsunami warnings to the population."

On February 27, 2010, south-central Chile was struck by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake and resulting tsunami together killed 523 people, at least 156 people died from the tsunami alone.

According to the Attorney General's office, no warning was issued to the general population in time to prevent the disaster. An alert was issued but then deactivated only to be re-activated when it was too late for many communities along the affected coastline.

Some 220,000 homes, 3,700 schools, 17 hospitals and 212 bridges were destroyed according to official figures. The economic losses to the country are estimated at $30 billion or 18% of Chile's gross domestic product.

Jaime Soto, representative of Swiss ATS (Asociación Territorios Solidarios de Suiza) says: "The lessons are many and must be assimilated into Chilean society as a whole. Public policies should focus on reducing disaster risk particularly at the level of local government. Our legislation should be updated and we also need to take the new context of climate change into account.

"In the two years since the earthquake the country has witnessed a succession of major disaster events. These have included the volcanic eruptions in the Puyehue-Cordón del Caulle range, the burning of Torres del Paine in southern Chile, two years of drought in central Chile which is affecting food production and flash floods in mountainous areas of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile."

He recalled that a good start on reform was made last year when on the 1st anniversary of the earthquake UN Habitat and UNISDR participated in a meeting in the town of Talcahuano which brought together local government representatives from the Bío-Bío region, Ministry of Housing representatives and civil society organizations to discuss reconstruction issues and to launch the UNISDR "Making Cities Resilient" Campaign.

There are now six cities and municipalities which are members of the global campaign: lto Bío-Bío, Graneros, Hualpén, Lampa,. Lautaro, and Río Claro.

A three-year initiative - "Strategic Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction in the Valley of Itata, Bío-Bío region" - supported by the City of Geneva, is now underway covering nine communes.