Post-quake opportunity in Chile
SANTIAGO DE CHILE, 10 April 2014 - The Head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström, arrived yesterday in Chile, where she was received by the President, Michelle Bachelet, prior to a regional consultation on disaster risk reduction with the eleven member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
They discussed the effectiveness of Chile's early warnings and the evacuation of over 900,000 people as a result of the earthquake and tsunami which struck the country on April 2. President Bachelet is expecting a full damage assessment tomorrow when work on a strategy for recovery will commence in earnest.
Despite the avoidance of major loss of life, there has been significant damage, notably to schools and thousands of homes. There is particular concern at the disruption being caused to the education system in the affected areas of Arica, Parinacota, and Tarapaca.
President Bachelet highlighted the opportunity in the recovery process to consider how to ensure that public and social infrastructure is located in less exposed and less dangerous zones in urban areas and the financial impact of such decisions. She also remarked on how - like many other Chileans - she now has had the personal experience of the new tsunami alert system which transmits messages to those in danger zones through mobile phones. The President herself was evacuated when a second earthquake struck the disaster zone during her visit to the area on April 3.
Globally, over the last ten years, major earthquakes and tsunamis have been responsible for almost 700,000 deaths and they have also caused some $500 billion worth of economic losses. Ms. Wahlström said much could be learned from the success of Chile in order to avoid both loss of life and damage to housing and critical infrastructure from this category of risk.
President Bachelet stated how important disaster risk reduction is for a country like Chile that is highly exposed to earthquakes, volcanic activity and climate change. She highlighted that "climate change is a huge problem for Chile that should not be regarded as an temporary emergency situation but as a problem that is here to stay, which demands the formulation of a long term national policy as well as an adaptation plan to deal with its immediate effects".
Ms. Wahlström raised the key role which local governments can play in reducing disaster risk and the need for national governments to support building their capacities to handle disaster risk. Ms. Bachelet indicated that a municipal reform was about to begin with the aim of providing better support and more autonomy to local governments.
The discussion also touched on the great opportunity that 2015 offers to integrate global agendas on disaster risk reduction, climate change and sustainable development. They also discussed the possibility of a national consultation on the strategic linkages of the post-2015 sustainable development, climate change and disaster risk reduction agendas in Chile.
The UNISDR Chief also participated yesterday in a round table with representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay. The UNASUR meeting was a consultation on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction which will be adopted at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015.
A further major consultation will take place at the Americas Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from May 13 to 16.