Preparedness in Chile

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Marco Werman talks with Harvard Professor Cesar Hidalgo about how well prepared Chile was for the earthquake which struck it on Saturday.

MARCO WERMAN: Twenty-five years after the 1960 earthquake that the BBC's Gideon Long there mentioned, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Chile's capital, Santiago. Cesar Hidalgo is an adjunct lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University. He says Chile learned some valuable lessons from those earlier disasters.

CESAR HIDALGO: Given that there's a strong history of earthquakes and people have gotten used to rebuild all the infrastructure every 20 or 30 years, there are very strict norms and regulations. But what this really shows is that these are being followed. So for instance, Santiago is a city with more than 6 million people and there's a couple of buildings that fell and it was actually, the media has been able to track down, apparently there were some irregularities in the way that these building got their permits. So this shows that actually the norms are being followed quite strictly and it's a city that has been able to fare very decently. A lot of places were able to keep electricity and water in the city of Santiago. On the city of Concepcion, however, and Constitucion and the other places that were hit harder by the earthquake, that's a very different story and a lot of buildings were devastated. Some by the earthquake, but many of them by the water that came in later.

WERMAN: It's interesting, the media have already done, the Chilean media, have already done an investigation into the buildings that fell down. So this is the kind of thing that, you know just on Saturday, is pretty high in the public eye and of great concern.

HIDALGO: The Chilean media has been excellent in all this. I have been following it very closely and the Chilean media has not limited itself just to report what's going on, but has also provided a lot of public services. So for instance, if you look at the web pages of the major newspapers like La Tercera or Mercurio, you will see that, for example, La Tercera was able to set up very quickly, like a multimedia page in which you could find which stores were open and where. Okay? You could also find in Mercurio, they made like a map in which you could see which bridges were down and all this information was made available so people would be able to coordinate better. There have been a lot of examples of very nice coordination that has been going on. The government, for instance, was able to coordinate with supermarkets for the delivery of what they had available in stock that was for primary necessity. And actually, the supply chains of major supermarkets are now being used to deliver goods to people. Also, the Army was able to keep the peace in the city of Concepcion after the looting. So we didn't have to wait for international aid to get there. And there are many, many other examples.

WERMAN: Put things into perspective for us. I think a lot of people in the United States may think of Chile, or at least many parts of Chile, as a developing nation. How would you categorize it?

HIDALGO: So Chile is indeed a developing nation, but the question is how far is it from a developed nation right now? Chile has joined the OACD, Organization of Economic Operation and Development, which is sort of like the club of developed nations. Chile is a country that has been running surpluses for the last years, so it was able to accumulate billions of dollars in reserves and is a country that has been developing a very impressive set of infrastructure with, unfortunately, a lot of it has collapsed with the earthquake. But if you go to Santiago, you would see a city with skyscrapers, very nice highways, you have a lot of very impressive infrastructure and at the same time, you have other parts of the country that are not so well developed. So I would say that Chile would be much closer to a developed nation than a country on the bottom of the pyramid.

WERMAN: So was Chile's response to this massive quake so effective because of its economic standing?

HIDALGO: The economic standing, you can think that it is a result rather than a condition. And the result is that there have been institutions and governments in a private sector that has been doing good work for many years. And the result of this is that the economy has been performing quite well during the last 25 years. But the other result of this is that now there is an ability to coordinate because all these networks were in place that are able to reach most parts of the population.

WERMAN: And Professor Hidalgo, your family and friends, do you have any loved ones who are affected by this quake in Chile?

HIDALGO: No, my family fortunately is fine. They have electricity, they have water, so I am very happy for that. They are safe, sound but there are other parts of the country that were not as lucky.

WERMAN: Cesar Hidalgo, professor of Public Policy at Harvard and a native of Santiago, Chile, thank you very much.

HIDALGO: Thanks Marco.