Chile gears up for costly battle against climate change

By
Monday, August 28, 2017

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presented last month a national plan to combat the effects of climate change following a series of harsh weather-related events, including drought, heavy rains, record high temperatures and wildfires.

Before the plan's launch on July 12 the government had announced a series of investments to reinforce the country's infrastructure and put in place climate-related prevention measures. Additional measures have also been unveiled since the presentation of the plan.

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THE DAMAGE

Chile saw massive wildfires in January that ravaged large portions of the central-southern O'Higgins (VI), Maule (VII) and Biobío (VIII) regions, burning down over 580,000ha of land and 1,624 houses.

The 20-day emergency killed 11 people and the government said the overall cost surpassed US$26mn.

In February, millions were left without water in capital Santiago after a series of landslides caused an increase of turbidity levels on the Maipo river, forcing water utility Aguas Andinas to interrupt its services.

In May, the government declared two regions as disaster zones after heavier-than-normal rains hit the northern Atacama (III) and Coquimbo (IV) regions. The public works ministry (MOP) estimated that the cost for basic reconstruction would amount to US$30mn.  

The month of July saw unusual snowfall cause havoc in parts of Santiago's electricity system, leaving 36,000 clients without power for over 48 hours. The MOP announced the same month it was planning US$4.2mn in repairs.

A document from the country's environment ministry, which outlines the 2017-2022 climate change policy, estimates that Chile could lose the equivalent to 1.1% of annual GDP by the year 2100 due to climate change.

A MAJOR THREAT: LANDSLIDES

Landslides represent one of the biggest climate-related threats that Chile is facing in the coming years.

The deadly Atacama floods in 2015 forced the authorities to focus more attention and resources on this specific risk.

The MOP said in March of this year that it would invest more than 220bn pesos (US$332mn) in a multi-year flood control plan to help prevent landslides near urban areas during periods of heavy rainfall.

This year alone will see the MOP address the landslide threat in 11 of Chile's 16 regions, which will require an investment of 12.8bn pesos.

One of the main components of this initiative is the cleanup of ravines and riverbeds that are located close to urban settlements.

The northern Antofagasta region (II) is also investing 56bn pesos in 19 landslide control systems, with 10 for the regional capital and nine for the rest of the region.

One of these systems, located at the Farellones ravine, entails the installation of 20 decanting wells placed in line and 51 stabilizing walls across 2.1km of slope. In the case of a landslide, these structures are expected to mitigate the energy of such an event.

COASTAL PROJECTS

The Chilean coast was in the past few months hit by strong tidal waves. In late June, a series of storms caused heavy coastal swells that ended up flooding one of the main avenues in the tourist hub of Viña del Mar.

The event led the MOP to present an initiative to install a so-called coastal wall, which is expected to cost US$20mn. The wall entails installing special concrete structures known as wave breakers that will be located 7m away from the existing rockfill in order to reduce the impact caused by waves.

Public works minister Alberto Undurraga told BNamericas in July that the national hydraulics institute (INH) was studying similar initiatives for other regions.