Latin America: anti-seismic on paper

With the recent earthquake in Mexico, the national seismological institutes are asking how well prepared are Latin American countries when it comes to natural disasters

Latin America: anti-seismic on paper

Lee en Español: América Latina: antisísmica en el papel

The recent earthquake in Mexico, with a magnitude of 8.2 on the Richter scale, shows that pain and death can be reduced by taking appropriate approaches and standardizing safety measures. Countries like Chile, whom constantly faces earthquakes due to its geographical location, have done various modification to make sure that the country is well prepared for a natural disaster. In general, one of the main causes of fatalities during these occurrences is that most people within Latin America live in habitats vulnerable to the weather due to their lack of financial stability.

Last year, Ecuador was shaken with an earthquake where more than 500 individuals were affected. Other countries, like Haiti (2010, 300,000 people affected) and Guatemala (1976, 25,000 people affected), show that these human casualties could have been avoided  if the countries follow the rules, but is Latin America prepared for an earthquake?

Chile, Colombia and Peru have anti-seismic regulations for housing to withstand earthquakes of significant magnitude,, but the building regulation are not strict, "Mexico is a pioneer in the fulfillment of all the norms and this is demonstrated by the low mortality rates due to earthquakes after 1985", stated Xyoli Pérez Campos director of the National Seismological Service of the country. In Bolivia, there are no controls and most of the population live in vulnerable areas, which also have weak infrastructures that do not comply with any anti-seismic criteria, as reported in the National Seismology Center of the country.

In Ecuador, "irregular constructions exist throughout the country and that is a source of danger," warns the Geophysical Institute of Quito. The same thing happens in Venezuela where "more than half the population lives in homes without the capacity to withstand an earthquake, and more than 60% live in areas of seismic risk", warns the Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research.

In Central America, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras lead the implementation of anti-seismic standards and have been able to carry out drills involving the majority of the population in order to warn others of the risks.

Charles Walker, director of the Hemispheric Institute for the Americas at the University of California, Davis, and earthquake historian of Latin America, says that "[the region] is at risk of a strong earthquake every 5 to 10 years due to the congruence of multiple tectonics plaques; [just like] the San Andres fault is a threat to the West Coast of the United States, Latin America has many plates that move abruptly, as is the Nazca plaque in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia that generates high magnitude earthquakes”. For Walker, the announcement of anti-seismic standards is useless if there is no control in the execution. For this expert, as well as for many others, if no change is made in the current infrastructure, an earthquake like the one that affected Chile in 1960 (which was 9.5 on the scale of Richter) could have terrible consequences for the region and therefore for the planet.

 

Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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