A 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing nearly 250,000 people.
Although Chile suffered a much stronger earthquake than Haiti, its death toll was much lower due in part to improved infrastructure, and the country was able to recover on its own, instead of relying almost entirely on foreign assistance like Haiti did.
Indeed, over a month later, on February 27, Chile was hit by the fifth worst earthquake in recorded history; a 8.8 magnitude quake that lasted nearly two minutes in the country’s Maule region.
Two countries, two devastating earthquakes, complete with aftershocks and tsunamis. By all accounts, the Chilean quake was more powerful and more destructive. But the aftermath of both earthquakes told two different stories of countries’ independence and ability to rebound from disaster.
Chilean president Sebastian Piñera, who was inaugurated just two weeks after the earthquake, spoke for the first time in the United States at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. on April 12, 2010.
President Piñera spoke about his election platform, which focused on reforming social programs and defeating poverty in Chile within the decade. Those programs have taken a back-burner in the wake of the earthquake, as Piñera launched what he calls an “extremely ambitious” government recovery program.
The February earthquake cost Chile nearly 30 billion U.S. dollars, or about 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Piñera outlined the country’s plan to pay for the rebuilding process, beginning with a bill that went before Congress to allocate federal funds. Chile will use money from the state savings to pay for some of its largest renovations.
The immediate relief to restore basic necessities was completed within 30 days of the quake, but the race is on to finish emergency shelters for the 200,000 Chileans living in destroyed homes before winter begins June 21.
But Chile isn’t letting the earthquake stand in its way of making progress. One of the goals in Piñera’s platform was to rid Chile of extreme poverty by 2014, a goal he still stands by.
Piñera outlined the country’s two main challenges as making up for lost time and improve jobs and to “run faster and take big leaps towards development”.
Piñera spoke of 12 years of plenty, the “Chilean miracle” as he put it, between 1986 and 1997, when Chile was one of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world. However, the years that followed saw Chile fall from a global leader to the middle of the pack. Chile’s determination to rebound, even before the earthquake, is driven by the fact that the Chilean people remember what it is like to have a strong economy, low unemployment and an independent nation.
So how does Chile differ from Haiti? The people of Haiti have been living in poverty for generations. They do not know what it is like to live in an independent and developed country. The Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation, ranks countries based on 10 freedoms ranging from property rights to government spending. The 2010 Index ranks Chile as the 10th most free country in the world, while Haiti is considered “mostly unfree” at number 141.
Economic freedom gives a country independence and room to rebuild in the wake of disaster.
This is not a tale of total discouragement for the Haitian people. President Piñera spoke of the dedication of the people and the sacrifices that must be made to work together.
“We will need a lot of unity in order to be able to successfully face this earthquake,” Piñera said. “And that’s why we are trying to create a consensus within the country on how to face this tragedy and we hope that the opposition will be a constructive one.”