A study in contrasts: Lessons of natural disasters in Chile and Haiti
Chile's quality of the government and the relative wealth of its citizens means it was much better off after its earthquake than Haiti.
Mathew is an economics professor at UCLA and has written three books: Green Cities (Brookings Institution Press); Heroes and Cowards (Princeton University Press, jointly with Dora L. Costa); and in fall 2010, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter World (Basic Books).
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Chile was hit with a 8.8 richter scale earthquake and as of now roughly 1000 people are reported dead. The richter scale is a base 10 log scale --- so the shaking amplitude of the Chile quake was almost 100 times larger than the Haiti quake.
How could a much worse quake cause much less death? One answer is simply luck that the Haitian quake struck a major population center. But, we know that Chile's city of Concepcion was close to the epicenter.
My favorite explanation is discussed in My 2005 paper on deaths from disasters . Using data for nations all over the world, I documented the benefits of economic development. Richer nations suffer fewer deaths from the "same quality" shock.
Now, the open question is "why"?
Explanation #1: The Quality of Government
Richer governments can enforce building codes and quality building codes protect the public.
Explanation #2: Richer people
Richer people live in newer, higher quality structures and this protects them. The structures are built of higher quality (no collapsing cement).
There is a synergy between #1 and #2.
Richer nations tend to have a more educated populace. The educated are better able to monitor their politicians and this provides an incentive for self interested politicians to actually act in the public's interest.
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