Chile is a country used to natural disasters as much as to the reconstruction process. However, the frequency of these cycles has increased over the years. According to the Ministry of Interior (Homeland), 43% of all natural disasters recorded in Chile since 1960 happened between 2014 and 2017. In fact, the government is already involved in several reconstruction processes across the country.
Alongside climate emergency and the progressive loss of biodiversity — two planetary boundaries that allow humanity to continue developing — this scenario draws a discouraging forecast that lets us think that we will live in a permanent state of reconstruction. In the foreseeable future, it seems very plausible that the ONEMI, the Chilean government agency focused on natural disasters-related tasks, could become a new department of state.
A few months ago, Bernardita Paúl, National Manager of Reduction Risk and Reconstruction, announced 32 new state-led urban projects in Chile to mitigate the impact of future natural disasters. "Each peso [the local currency] invested in mitigation saves six pesos in reconstruction", said Paúl when announced these projects.
Everyone knows that natural disasters will happen again —that's a fact. Probably they will happen simultaneously or overlapped as they did in Chile back in 2015 — that year Villarica and Calbuco volcanos erupted, three of the driest regions of the country accounted alluviums, tidal waves hit ports and waterfronts and, last but not least, an earthquake rumbled Coquimbo, a port-city at the north of the country.
It seems chaotical, but Chile has survived virtually unscathed after earthquakes thanks to a very effective disaster relief infrastructure. Chileans know that they have learned the biggest lessons from the biggest tragedies: 1939 Chilean earthquake, 1960 Concepcion earthquake, and 1985 San Antonio earthquake not only forced structural changes in the Urbanism and Construction Act progressively across the past century, but the central state took on an active role in defining territorial planning; new government disaster relief agencies were founded, such as ONEMI; and each big earthquake has implied to strength and constant review of the seismic national regulations.
Chileans are proud of how their cities react to earthquakes. They should thank the lessons learned during the past century. Nevertheless, the new century forces to rethinking mitigation, resiliency, and proactivity not only from the perspective of the national and local government, but architects, developers, and citizens, because the climate emergency is shaping a world with more aggressive, or even, new natural disasters: France hits highest recorded 45.1°C (113.18F) the same week a hail storm blankets Mexican city of Guadalajara in 150 cm (4.9 feet) of ice.
Even though 8.8-magnitude 2010 Chile earthquake and tsunami reconstruction (widely known as 27F) had been criticized because of its market-led massive housing production, a good lesson on why long-term envision requires considering mitigation as a key role is PRES Constitucion, a reconstruction master plan for the city of Constitución. Financed by forestry firm Arauco, overseen by Alejandro Aravena's ELEMENTAL and with state input from local government and housing ministry (MINVU). PRES master plan featured new public facilities to boost Constitucion's local economy, plus a new mitigation park in front of Maule river.
This project forced the relocation of dwellers originally settled in risk zones. Some of the victims moved to Villa Verde, a new neighborhood designed by ELEMENTAL as well, featuring their widely known half-houses. The river park is a public facility that aims to mitigate upcoming-but-unpredictable floods, or even a tsunami such as in 2010, while improving the quality of life of the people of Constitución. Other mitigation parks already built in Chile are the Kaukari Park in Copiapó, designed by Teodoro Fernández, the Zanjón de la Aguada Flood Park in Santiago, designed by Pablo Allard and José Rozas, and the awarded Dichato Park, developed and designed by local government agency SERVIU Biobio.
It's worth noting that as cities all over the world are growing and densifying, the mitigation and reconstruction processes are becoming more complex as well. After 2014 Great Fire of Valparaiso in Chile, some victims couldn't apply for reconstruction subsides as their houses were placed in risk zones, mostly in ravines. Thus, regulations did not allow to rebuild in their own sites. Future mitigation plans in dense urban zones will be shaped mostly by climate emergency, and new challenges will appear such as relocating entire neighborhoods as sea level increases or new natural disasters shape new risk zones in already densified zones.
Nowadays, an earthquake is not enough to make us less proud of our cities. As climate emergency has evolved until becoming a potential “climate apartheid”, as UN human rights expert Philip Alston recently warned in a report published by The Guardian, our cities should be resilient in an endless cycle of planning, mitigation, and reconstruction.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 05, 2019.