Nature’s Wrath Exposes Frailty
By Dialogo April 01, 2010Very interesting report about adverse events plaguing the planet since the turn of the century. I think the authorities should invest in resources that can significantly mitigate the occurrence of these events. I would like to receive it by e-mail
It is very important to know the history of these natural phenomenona where in most cases many lives are lost due to lack of guidance and an adequate rescue system. My congratulations!
Joseph Desarmes feels blessed, yet incredibly unfortunate. He was rescued
from a collapsed home after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake ravaged Haiti on January 12,
2010. “They got me out from under the ruins of a house, and I felt lucky to have
survived,” Desarmes told the BBC.
Desarmes fled with his family to Santiago, Chile. Six weeks later, a
magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck the country. “To come to Chile and go through the
same situation, you can’t imagine ... how powerless I felt.”
The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile show Latin America and the Caribbean’s
vulnerability to natural disasters. Geography and major climate changes have led to
natural disasters that killed half a million people during the 20th century,
according to the Harvard Review of Latin America magazine ReVista.
The region is exposed to intense seismic activity, particularly the western
edge of South America, which is considered the most active in the world. The largest
earthquake ever recorded was a magnitude 9.5 temblor in Valdivia, Chile, in 1960,
according to the Belgian Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.
Latin America is also home to the world’s most active volcanoes, ReVista
reported. Of the five largest eruptions of the 20th century, one occurred in
Guatemala in 1902 and two hit Chile, in 1932 and 1991.
Floods and droughts are the most common meteorological hazards in the region,
followed by hurricanes, according to ReVista.
Governments in the region are taking important steps to address natural
disasters, adding prevention and mitigation to traditional response, according to a
World Bank study. The following section recounts three natural disasters and how
goverments learned from them.
Heartbreak increases alertness in colombia
Omayra Sánchez, a 13-year-old trapped up to her neck in water and landslide
debris, became symbolic of the Nevado del Ruiz volcanic eruption that destroyed
Armero, Colombia, in November 1985. Despite a three-day rescue effort, Sánchez, one
of the 23,000 casualties, died of gangrene and hypothermia.
Things turned out differently for Omaira Medina Morales, another Armero
resident. Three months pregnant, she was up to her knees in rubble for three days
before being rescued. “The memory of Armero remains intact in my heart. It’s a pain
I had to learn to live with,” Medina Morales said in an article in the Colombian
magazine Soho. She lost her husband and her legs, but the baby survived.
More than 5,000 personnel from the Colombian military, National Police, Red
Cross, Civil Defense and others worked tirelessly to save lives in Armero.
Colombia learned valuable lessons from this calamity. “The need to work as a
team and to integrate the efforts of each emergency-response entity was the big
lesson here,” said Eugenio Alarcón, of the Colombian Civil Defense.
The tragedy shed light on the country’s natural-disaster management
limitations. Colombian scientists lacked the resources to effectively monitor the
Nevado del Ruiz had erupted before, killing 636 people in 1595 and 1,000 in
1845. By 1989, the government had created the National System for the Prevention and
Attention of Disasters, which integrates government agencies and private and
Armero is now a ghost town; most of its survivors were relocated to
Moving forward after Mitch
Five days of rain, flooding and mudslides did not deter Santos Palma from
helping Nicaragua’s military and the Red Cross save hundreds of victims after
Hurricane Mitch struck in October 1998. Rescuers navigated by boat above farms
surrounding the Estero Real River, north of Chinandega.
“It was very hard to negotiate who would go first. … People at risk are
terrified and it is very difficult to negotiate with them,” Palma told Catholic
Relief Services, a humanitarian agency he joined in 1999.
Before Mitch became a Category 5 hurricane on October 26, it hit Jamaica and
the Yucatán Peninsula as a tropical storm. Official estimates report a final death
toll of 3,800 in Nicaragua.
“Mitch exposed Nicaragua’s vulnerability,” Palma said. After Mitch’s reign of
destruction, the U.S. engaged in an extensive relief effort — the biggest undertaken
by Southern Command at that time — according to globalsecurity.org. The U.S. Army
worked with Catholic Relief Services and Nicaraguan authorities to reconstruct
In 2000, Nicaragua passed a law creating a national system involving
government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and community associations
working together to reduce Nicaragua’s vulnerability to natural catastrophes.
Post-Mitch projects have had positive results, Palma said. “Since Mitch, the
population is clearly more aware of becoming organized and accepting recommendations
for building an infrastructure. But there is still much to do on this
Quake tests peru's preparedness
The San Clemente church in Pisco collapsed onto hundreds of parishioners in
August 2007, burying the victims.
“People were running out the front door screaming,” a witness told The
“It felt like the end of the world.”
The church crumpled after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake leveled the city and
other areas on the southern coast. The country reported 569 people dead and more
than 15,000 homeless.
Peru responded with a program led by the National Institute for Civil
Defense, or INDECI, which deals with disaster prevention and recovery. It operates
at the local level first, but if response capabilities are surpassed, regional and
national-level authorities become involved.
The emergency response in Pisco was uncoordinated, according to the
U.K.-based Humanitarian Policy Group, or HPG. The government declared a state of
emergency without enacting INDECI mechanisms, resulting in confusion and duplication
of efforts, HPG reported. “There is general agreement that the national disaster
management structure is well designed and appropriate and could operate effectively
if it were better coordinated and funded, and more participatory,” the report
The Peruvian military deployed more than 4,000 troops to the rescue. They
supported the national police by providing security and donating blood, according to
the Peruvian news website terra.com.pe.
International agencies also dispatched aid. In March, the U.N. announced it
would support Peru in designing a national strategy to minimize the effects of a
major earthquake or tsunami.