Haiti vs Chile: Tale of 2 quakes or that chance favours the prepared mind

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 7, 2013

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Chance favours the prepared mind, Louis Pasteur once said. He would probably have drawn the inevitable conclusions from the difference in the toll between Chile’s 8.8-magnitude quake in February 2010 and Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude goudogoudo (kreyol for quake) a month before. Just 0.1% of the Chileans who experienced the quake died, compared to 11% of Haitians. There are many reasons for this disparity and it’s about more than GDP.

Chile was better prepared for an earthquake than Haiti. A devastating quake 50 years before, led it to develop and enforce a modern building code. Haiti had nothing like this and it’s a moot point if it has developed one now, three years after the catastrophe that practically flattened Port au Prince.

It’s worth reading Brian Walsh’s piece in TIME magazine. He uses the vastly different death tolls in the Chilean and Haitian quakes to argue for doing less after disaster strikes a poor country and doing more (a great deal more) before. He quotes Brian Tucker, the president of the earthquake consultancy GeoHazards International and someone engaged in preparing countries for seismic risks.

Mr Tucker has written a piece that draws on the results of his study of the lethality of nearly all moderate quakes that occurred from 1970 through 2012. Mr Walsh reports that “he found that the average number of deaths per quake in each of the 10 most earthquake-prone countries was about 90 times as high as the average number of deaths per earthquake in resilient places like California, Japan and Chile.”

The difference lies in being prepared, something a developing country may consider a bit of a luxury when faced with so many other challenges. But it should be seen as a form of life insurance. Like vaccination programmes and bed nets, says Mr Tucker.

Louis Pasteur would probably have agreed that chance was bound to favour so prepared a national mindset.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac