How Positive Peace makes a difference during a disaster

A comparison between Chile and Haiti shows how the aftermath of natural disasters can differ greatly between countries.

Looking at the example of earthquakes in Chile and Haiti shows how the impacts of natural disasters differ significantly between countries with different levels of Positive Peace.

The recently released Ecological Threat Register from the Institute for Economics and Peace measures ecological threats that countries are currently facing and provides projections to 2050, but it is unique in that it combines measures of resilience with the most comprehensive ecological data available to shed light on the countries least likely to cope with extreme ecological shocks.

Chile and Haiti are among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world and are situated along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions frequently occur. While Chile has successfully built resilience to earthquakes following a history of devastating impacts, Haiti lacks the coping capacity to respond and recover from such events.

This infographic shows the difference in Positive Peace score between both countries. Chile has recorded a strong improvement in Positive Peace since 2009 and continues to outperform the global average. Haiti has recorded some improvement from 2011 onwards but strong deteriorations prior to that mean that the country still operates with low levels of resilience.

In 2010, the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti was a catastrophic event exacerbated by the extreme vulnerability of the population and the lack of preparedness and response capacity of national authorities.

The earthquake was one of the biggest natural disasters in the country’s history resulting in over 200,000 fatalities and the displacement of approximately 1.5 million people.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti suffered from high levels of poverty and weak institutions of governance, increasing the country’s vulnerability in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The slow distribution of resources in the days after the earthquake resulted in civil unrest and looting.

Additionally, government capacity was severely disrupted with approximately 20 per cent of federal employees killed or injured, a quarter of government buildings destroyed and further damage to almost all major infrastructure in Haiti. Damage and losses were estimated to be equivalent to 120 per cent of Haiti’s GDP.

Haiti had introduced several mechanisms to build resilience to natural disasters. In 2001, Haiti’s National Disaster Risk Management System (SNGRD) was signed into effect. This proved effective in the 2008 Hurricane season, with substantially fewer deaths recorded than previous hurricane seasons. However, the 2010 earthquake was beyond the capacity of the SNGRD due to its unexpected catastrophic nature. The lack of political stability has had a significant impact on the continuity and effectiveness of Haiti’s response to disasters. Haiti also lacks any comprehensive data collection on natural disasters and has no enforced building codes or nationwide early warning system.

In contrast, Chile’s extensive disaster response preparations and early detection systems were proven to substantially limit the impact of the magnitude-8.3 earthquake that struck in April 2015. The earthquake resulted in 12 fatalities with approximately 60 houses destroyed and a further 200 damaged.

Early detection and efficient communication networks were critical in Chile’s response. In 2015, Chilean officials were able to detect the earthquake and track tsunami waves before they occurred. Approximately one million people were evacuated in the provinces of Choapa and Coquimbo, following the tsunami warning and declaration of a disaster area.

Chile has improved its disaster response following its history of strong earthquakes. In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of central Chile. Together the earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused destruction across southern and central Chile, resulting in more than 500 fatalities and destroying over 200,000 homes. In response, building codes were updated with the requirement that all new building must be able to withstand a 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

Vision of Humanity

Editorial Staff

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.