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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