The earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale that struck Chile last weekend affected two million people. It was more than 500 times more powerful than the earthquake that devastated Haiti a few weeks earlier, yet the human toll and infrastructural damage was on a much lesser scale. Chile has a long history of earthquakes and has implemented a range of measures to cope with the hazard. News reports are already claiming that the impact on the Chilean economy will be “limited and short-lived” because the country’s robust economic situation will facilitate a recovery without the need for foreign aid. This is, of course, quite different to Haiti which had no internal capacity to deal with the recent disaster and will be entirely dependent on outside help for many years to come.
The study of natural hazards is not just a matter of physical geography, as Katherine Donovan points out in her article in Area, entitled ‘Doing social volcanology’. She shows how cultural and socio-economic factors have influenced reactions to volcanic hazards in Java, Indonesia. In particular, she focuses on how local traditions and beliefs influence understandings of volcanoes and people’s reactions to eruptions. Disaster planning and mitigation activities need to take this into consideration alongside scientific knowledge and technological inputs. Thus she argues for hazard research to be interdisciplinary and for a range of methodologies to be used.
Thus, in comparing Chile and Haiti, it is not only the physical aspects of the earthquake such as magnitude and epicentre that need analysing in order to understand the different impacts of the disasters, but also factors such as collective social psyche, political capability, legal framework, economic capacity, infrastructural resilience and technological availability.