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Chile earthquake anniversary: Reconstruction will take years

At the start of this month, two earthquakes struck the central region of Chile around 25 kilometres northeast of the country’s second largest city, Concepción. According to the United States Geological Survey, the tremors registered 5.8 and 6.9 in magnitude.

Both were deep and no damages were reported. However, they acted as an unhappy reminder of the large earthquake which devastated the region a year ago. On 27th February 2010, an 8.8 magnitude quake, one of the largest on record, struck the area and killed more than 500 people.

Infrastructure and buildings in Concepción were widely damaged in the 2010 earthquake and the Public Works Minister in Chile has said it will take four years for the region to recover fully. Main highways and airports have been repaired and water has been restored to all the affected cities. New schools have also been erected and the rebuilding of key industries is well underway. Reconstruction is believed to be driving economic growth, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) predicted to increase by 5.7 per cent this year.

But while life in some areas is almost back to normal, many damaged buildings have yet to be demolished, remaining in their collapsed state as monuments to the destruction of last year. And displaced families are becoming increasingly frustrated with the conditions of their shed-like prefabricated houses, erected by the government after the earthquake. One temporary settlement is Aldea Bulnes, visited recently by a reporter from the Santiago Times. Residents spoke of the rainwater which had flooded many of the flimsy structures during the winter months, causing some of their children to contract pneumonia. Sewage is also beginning to leak into the ground and they fear the diseases which could arise from contaminated standing water in the hot summer. Residents of Aldea Bulnes insist they are not asking for handouts, just decent homes for their families and a say in where these are situated.

Sitting on the ‘Ring of Fire’ circling the Pacific ring, Chile suffers from regular earthquakes as the continental plate beneath the Pacific Ocean slides underneath the South American mainland. Concepción is particularly prone to seismic activity because it lies along the fault line. Major earthquakes have hit the region in 1928, 1939, 1960 (the world’s strongest earthquake on record) and 1985. The 1960 disaster left over 1,600 dead and two million homeless. With better design and stricter regulations for new buildings, last year’s quake was more limited in its impact. Nevertheless, much work still remains to be done and some residents face an agonizing wait for their new homes.

Following the earthquake, SOS Children began an emergency relief programme centred around Concepción. At the height of the programme, 770 children were being supported daily through food, clothing, and basic hygiene products and emotional support. The SOS Children's Village Bulnes and the SOS Social Centre of Carahue (near Bulnes) suffered damage as a result of the earthquake, but have now been repaired.   

At present, there are thirteen SOS Children's Villages, 11 SOS Youth Homes, four SOS Nurseries, two SOS Vocational Training Centers and ten SOS Social Centers in Chile.