Chile and Haiti: A Tale of Two Quakes


The quake that rattled Chile Saturday landed in the record books as the fifth-biggest quake ever measured, an 8.8-magnitude monster that ripped through the South American country and killed some 700 people in the coastal nation.

It came just six weeks after another quake shook Haiti, ravaging the impoverished region and leaving 220,000 dead in its wake -- even though it was nearly 500 times weaker than its Chilean counterpart. 

As crews continue to dig bodies from the rubble in both Chile and Haiti, experts wonder: Why was one nation devastated, and the other relatively spared?

  • The simple answer: money, Richard Stearns writes for the Seattle Times. Over half of the Haitian population lives on less than $1 a day, Stearns writes, and only half over the age of 15 can read, while in Chile, the average citizen earns $15,000 annually and the literacy rate is greater than 95 percent. "Most of the deaths would have been prevented -- if Haiti hadn't been so very poor," Stearns writes.
  • The greater abundance of wealth in Chile means more buildings were structurally sound and able to withstand the quake, scientist Colin Stark writes for CNN. Poverty is "what ultimately kills most people during an earthquake" because it determines how strong buildings are built: and when nations are cash-strapped like Haiti, "it means the choice between building robustly or building cheaply is not a choice at all," he writes.
  • Chile also had in place pre-quake a "working democracy" that was able to internally disperse resources to deal with the quake immediately and to fight for victims' safety, Anne Applebaum writes for the Washington Post. "The recovery process that follows a disaster is always deeply political," she writes. "Despite a stronger earthquake and more damaging aftershocks, Chile will return to normal faster than Haiti. Luck has nothing to do with it."
  • A mixture of luck and luxury saved Chile from Haiti's fate, according to the Wall Street Journal's editorial staff. The quake's touchdown point -- away from populated areas -- as well as access to free-market fringe benefits like modern health care, technology and education made the nation more equipped to handle a natural disaster, according to the editorial staff: "Chileans have prepared well for the big one."
  • Ultimately, Chile was spared the devastating losses of Haiti because of its status as a first-world, economicaly developed nation, Gilbert Mercier writes for the News Junkie Post. The difference between the nations' respective quake recoveries is a "humanely despicable injustice" that can be attributed to Chile's "modern and adequate infrastructure" and solid government: "It is difficult not to be shocked, and quite frankly revolted by the incredible disparity between the consequences, in terms of life and death, of two similar events," he writes.
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