Earthquakes or climate change: Which is worse for Chile’s infra?

Earthquakes or climate change: Which is worse for Chile’s infra?

Chilean authorities are obliged to take into account both sudden natural disasters and long-term events related to climate change when planning infrastructure.

This makes planning very difficult, experts from the housing ministry (Minvu) and disaster risk management investigation center Cigiden said during a seminar organized by those two institutions and Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) to discuss Chile’s reconstruction experiences 13 years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami left over 500 people dead and destroyed infrastructure across the country.

“I believe that any risk analysis or planning should consider the multiple threats in our territory and the mitigation and/or adaptation measures won’t necessarily be the same,” Cigiden researcher Patricio Winkler said in response to a question from BNamericas regarding whether short- or long-term disasters posed the most risks to infrastructure.

Using the example of a tsunami versus higher tidal waves caused by rising sea levels, he pointed out that the frequencies and impacts of the two phenomena were completely different, underlining that tsunamis cause much more short-term damage, but tidal waves are expected to increase in frequency in the long term due to climate change, meaning that infrastructure repairs and maintenance costs could end up being around the same.

After the event, the head of Minvu’s national advisory committee for disaster risk prevention and reconstruction, Magdalena Radrigán, told BNamericas that climate change is also being taken into account when planning housing solutions after a disaster such as an earthquake or the wildfires that hit the country last summer. 

“We're ensuring that emergency housing has water connections. From the point of view of definitive housing, when offering subsidies, we also include well construction in the rural area, for example, as well as the creation of new APRs [rural potable water] systems,” she said, adding that similar measures are taken for urban housing solutions.

She also warned that rising temperatures could amplify the effects of short-term disasters, such as this year’s wildfires, that were fueled by record-breaking temperatures and what authorities have described as a mega-drought.

Cigiden researcher Magdalena Vicuña said during the event that urban planning can also exacerbate the effects of climate change, especially the proliferation of high-rise buildings.

“The verticalization seen nowadays is a huge threat. It's exposing us more to the heat island phenomenon and that’s something that isn’t very well researched,” she said, pointing out that solving these problems require combined efforts between authorities, local communities and real estate companies.

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