Haitians understand all too well what the people of Chile are enduring. The desperate search for missing loved ones … sleepless nights in the street outside unstable houses … lack of communication to the outside world … the fear of what the future holds. The terror does not subside easily.
And yet, there's an additional heartache for Haiti in hearing this news. Why was it so much worse here? Chile's quake registered at 8.8, about 500 times more powerful than Haiti's. But the numbers of Haitian dead have already surpassed 220,000 – close to the horrendous toll of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Chile's dead, at last report, number some 700 – a tragic loss, but orders of magnitude fewer than Haiti's. What explains this deadly disparity?
The answer lies partly in bad luck, but largely in poverty and human frailty. Where Chile had strict building codes, Haiti suffered from haphazard construction. Poor, rural people had for years flooded into the capital, living in precariously built shantytowns. Lack of enforcement, corruption and weak governance all contributed to grossly magnify the proportions of the catastrophe. It's easy enough to see the exceptions here, which might have been the rule if earthquake-resistant building codes had been enforced: a few solid structures still tower above the rubble – scarred and cracked, to be sure, but standing all the same.
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