Every disaster presents a unique challenge. While history and experience can help us prepare, the context of each crisis – the populations, institutions and scale involved – must be considered in any planning and response.
The earthquake that struck Chile at 3.34am local time on Saturday 27 February 2010 was, at magnitude 8.8, one of the largest to have struck the planet since records began. The quake lasted over three minutes and caused destruction in both urban and rural areas. While the number of people killed – 562 – was relatively low, the quake and the subsequent tsunami caused damage estimated at $30billion US dollars, equivalent to 12.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. Moreover it occurred just after the election of a new government, which had an effect on the authorities’ response.
By most measures, the country was not well-prepared for the destruction caused by the earthquake.
The Chilean Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was one of the first organizations into affected areas. The primary focus of the organization was to provide direct humanitarian assistance where it was needed – search and rescue, shelter, aid and psychosocial support – but there was also a keen understanding that the Red Cross needed to strengthen its capacities, leaving it better placed to deal with future crises and to fulfil its humanitarian mandate.
Three years later, the Chilean Red Cross, through extensive training and development, has emerged as a stronger, more resilient and more professional organization able to respond effectively to large and small disasters across the country. The demands on the organization – through population movement, the effects of climate change, and urban growth – present new challenges, but the leadership is confident that its development over the last three years has left the Red Cross in a better position to adapt to, and sometimes to anticipate, in order to remain an effective auxiliary to the government.
The story that began in February 2010 does not end here; in fact with the support of the IFRC and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, this may be the beginning of a new chapter for a newly revitalised National Society.