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Infrastructure key difference between Chile, Haiti

Victoria Hernandez looks for belongings outside her parents house in Dichato, Chile, on Monday. Hernandez believes her parents are alive though they remain missing. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)

Victoria Hernandez looks for belongings outside her parents house in Dichato, Chile, on Monday. Hernandez believes her parents are alive though they remain missing. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)

By Joe Yovino

Look no further than the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti to underscore the importance of construction infrastructure.

Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck 200 miles southwest of Santiago, Chile, near the winemaking region of Concepcion, a metropolitan area of more than 500,000 people.

Officials said the energy released from the Chilean earthquake was 500 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that hit Haiti in January.

By Monday afternoon, an estimated 700 people had been killed in Chile, while more than 220,000 lost their lives in Haiti.

So why were the devastation and the loss of life so much worse in Haiti?

The earthquake in Haiti clobbered a more densely populated region, just outside the capitol city of Port-au-Prince. But the quake that hit Chile also landed in a metro region.

Scientists and building engineers in Chile and the United States have their own theories: Even though half-a-million homes were heavily damaged, the fact that so many Chileans survived was a testament to the nation’s enactment and enforcement of stringent building codes.

Haiti’s building codes, by comparison, were lax.

Also, according to a story in today’s Washington Post, Chile’s lack of corruption in the construction industry makes enforcement of building codes more credible. Chile ranks 25th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The United States ranks 19th. Haiti ranks 168th.

Money also directly factors into the stark results from the earthquakes. Chile is a relatively wealthy nation with a per capita GDP of $8,853, while Haiti’s is about $700.

So while money may not make the world go ’round, it sure helps to build it and keep it safe.

Joe Yovino is the Web editor for The Daily Reporter.

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