Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recovering Chile Charts New Course

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Chilean earthquake - at least compared with its Haitian counterpart - is more an economic than a humanitarian disaster. Admittedly, it’s not either/or - the number of deaths in Chile is small compared with those in Haiti, but it would be cruel to tell someone in Concepción who’s lost everything that “you’re not so bad off,” even if they’re not starving and Chile’s dry Mediterranean climate doesn’t expose them to torrential tropical rains and diseases.

Still, according to The Economist, one initial assessment said that the damage to Chilean could amount to something between US$15 and US$30 billion, about 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Some of those losses involve the wine industry, where epoxy-lined concrete vats cracked, stainless steel tanks toppled, barrels went rolling, and bottles spilled from their racks and shattered on the floor. According to Matt Ridgway, who lives in the hard-hit Colchagua valley, some of the irrigation canals turned red with the spillage, but the valley is gradually reopening for business, with hotels, restaurants, and wineries again ready to serve the public.

The country also faces a change in government today, with president Sebastián Piñera replacing the term-limited Michelle Bachelet (who probably could have won a second term easily, and will be eligible to do so when Piñera’s term expires in four years). Those losses are only an estimate and, says The Economist, “the government is faced with restoring roads and ports, building 500,000 new homes and repairing a million others that were damaged. It can draw on some $11 billion in a sovereign fund, most of it saved by Ms Bachelet’s government from windfall revenues from copper exports.”

I myself am leaving for Santiago Saturday morning by car, and expect to arrive there Sunday night, to provide some first hand information on the Chilean capital and its airport, which is currently operating at about half capacity (I am flying back to Buenos Aires next Wednesday morning). Personally, all my close friends and acquaintances are safe and accounted for - I was most concerned about one who lives in Concepción, the city most affected by the quake and its aftermath, but I just got an indirect report on him.

Meanwhile, for those concerned about Chile’s future, buying Chilean products and traveling there - don’t wait too long - will help the country recover. At the same time, there are many options for people who want to contribute directly to quake relief. The Chilean Embassy in Washington DC has a page of links for donations. Good choices include Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile) , which specifically works on quickly erecting inexpensive but sturdy shelters for homeless people, and the Catholic relief agency Hogar de Cristo.

In hard-hit Talca, Franz Schubert’s Fundación Trekking Chile is helping people throughout the Maule region, including tsunami-flattened coastal areas (Franz provided the photograph of Talca that appears above). Bank transfers can be sent to the following address:

Fundación Trekkingchile
RUT (Chilean Tax ID): 65.899.200-7
Address: Viña Andrea s/n, Alto Lircay, Talca, CHILE
Account No.: Banco Santander Nº 61816933
Swift Code: BSCHCLRM

Late Update: Shortly after I posted this in Montevideo, Franz sent out another email that I missed because I was on the Buquebus shuttle back to Buenos Aires. Everyone at Casa Chueca had moved out of the house because of another aftershock, around 7.0 (roughly the strength of the Haitian quake) on the Richter scale. Apparently there is notable damage in the city of Rancagua, about 90 km south of Santiago. Meanwhile, Sebastián Piñera is now officially president of Chile.

1 comment:

Susan said...

It was so sad hearing about Chile's disaster. I hope they can recover it fast!

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