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date: 22 September 2021

Natural Hazards Governance in Chilefree

Natural Hazards Governance in Chilefree

  • Vicente Sandoval, Vicente SandovalFreie Universität Berlin
  • Benjamin WisnerBenjamin WisnerUniversity College London and Oberlin College
  •  and Martin VossMartin VossFreie Universität Berlin

Summary

The governance of natural hazards in Chile involves how different actors participate in all stages of managing natural hazards and their impacts. This includes monitoring and early warning systems and response to the most significant hazardous events in the country: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydrological and meteorological events, and wildfires. Other general processes, such as disaster recovery, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and political economy and socioenvironmental processes of disaster risk creation are fundamental to understanding the complexity of natural hazard governance.

Chile has a long history of disasters linked to its geographical and climatological diversity as well as its history and development path. The country has made significant advances toward an effective disaster risk management (DRM) system, which is backed up by sophisticated monitoring systems for earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydro- and meteorological events, and wildfires. These technical advances are integrated with disaster response mechanisms that include trained personnel, regulatory frameworks, institutions, and other actors, all under the direction of the National Emergency Office. The Chilean mode of DRM and DRR is characterized by a centralized, top-down approach that limits the opportunities for community organizations to participate in discussions of DRR and decision-making. It also centralizes planning of post-disaster processes such as reconstruction. Likewise, the dominant politico-economic model of Chile is neoliberalism. This development path has reproduced the root causes of disaster vulnerability through socioeconomic inequalities as well as poorly regulated urbanization and the practices of extractive industries. This has created numerous socioenvironmental conflicts throughout the Chilean territory with sometimes hazardous effects on local communities, especially indigenous groups. The governance of hazards and risk reduction in Chile still has a long way to go to secure the country’s path to sustainable human development.

Subjects

  • Risk Management
  • Vulnerability
  • Response
  • Policy and Governance
  • Development
  • Preparedness

Introduction: The Need for Understanding Natural Hazards Governance in Chile

Chile has long history of extreme natural events, from massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to severe droughts and wildfires. In addition, small and medium impacts of everyday hazards on marginalized rural and urban areas cause damages and loss that erode people’s livelihoods (Lavell & Maskrey, 2014). The cumulative impacts of these extensive risks are significant (Bull-Kamanga et al., 2003). Large disasters have shaped policy and management transformations that serve to explain the Chilean mode of governance of disaster risks and natural hazards. The disaster risk governance has been also influenced by political, economic, and social events, such as the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s free-market reforms and the dismantling of Salvador Allende’s state welfare system in the 1970s.

Although in recent years several scholars from various disciplines have contributed to a better understanding of disaster, risk, and hazards governance in Chile (Bronfman et al., 2016; Gould et al., 2016; Sandoval & Voss, 2018), a comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis is still required. This article aims to analyze the disaster risk in Chile with special emphasis on how different actors participate in the different stages of managing natural hazards and their impacts. This includes monitoring and early warning systems and response to the most significant hazardous events in the country: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydro- and meteorological events, and wildfires. General processes of reconstruction and recovery are analyzed, along with disaster risk reduction and growing awareness of and resistance to voluntary and involuntary risk creation.

This article is based on a systematic review of studies from government agencies, Chilean and foreign scholars, and investigations carried out by international organizations and private consultancy firms. These studies are considered in light of the authors’ own research experience and publications on disaster risk governance on Chile (Sandoval, 2017, 2018; Sandoval et al., 2020; Sandoval & Voss, 2016, 2018) and publications on the understanding of vulnerability (Lopez-Marrero & Wisner, 2012; Voss, 2008, 2019; Voss & Funk, 2015; Wisner, 2016; Wisner et al., 2004).

Natural Hazards Profile of Chile

Comprising an area of nearly 756,000 km2, mainland Chile extends 4,200 km from about latitude 17°S to 56°S, and yet it only averages 150 km east to west, with a coastline of about 6,400 km. Chile borders the South Pacific Ocean as well as Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Map of Chile.

Its peculiar narrow and long territory encompasses a great variety of climates and geographic landforms as well as a variety of natural hazards. For instance, the World Risk Report 2019 (Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft & Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict [BEH & IFHV], 2019) places Chile in the 14th position (i.e., “Very High” level) with the greatest exposure to natural hazards among 180 countries. It is first among OECD countries, with 54% of the Chilean population and 12.9% of its total surface area exposed to three or more types of hazards (Bronfman et al., 2019).

Brief Historical Account of Disasters Triggered By Natural Hazards

The history of natural hazardous events and institutional development are inherently intertwined in the case of Chile (Gil Ureta, 2016). Since Spaniards set foot on the current Chilean territory around 1530, the great majority of recorded disasters have been related to earthquakes. Disasters triggered by other hazardous events such as tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, droughts, and wildfires have more recently drawn attention of historians and researchers. According to diverse records (Centro Sismológico Nacional [CSN], 2020a; Comisión Nacional para la Resiliencia frente a Desastres de Origen Natural [CREDEN], 2016; Madariaga et al., 2010; Palacios Roa, 2016), at least 62 disasters triggered by major earthquakes (i.e., ≥7.5Mw) have affected the Chilean territory since 1530. Sixteen occurred during the colonial phase (1530–1810), 46 since Chile’s independence in 1810, 19 in the 19th century; 21 in the 20th century; and six in the 21st century (see Table 1).

Table 1. List of major earthquakes and related disaster in Chile, 1530–2020

Date

Intensity (MM)

Magnitude (MW)

Observation

October 28, 1562a

XI

La Imperial (today Carahue) destroyed

February 08, 1570a

XI

Concepción destroyed

March 17, 1575

VIII

Santiago damaged

December 16, 1575a

X

Valdivia destroyed

August 07, 1582

VIII

Santiago damaged

May 13, 1647

XI

Santiago destroyed

March 15, 1657a

XI

Concepción destroyed

July 09, 1690

VIII

Santiago damaged

May 24, 1724

VIII

Santiago damaged

July 08, 1730a

XI

~ 9

Damage from La Serena to Chillán

December 24, 1737

X

Destruction from Valdivia to Castro

May 25, 1751a

XI

Concepción destroyed

March 17, 1755

VIII

Valparaíso damaged

October 04, 1786

VIII

Castro damaged

February 11, 1787

VIII

Castro damaged

May 19, 1790

X

Tucapel destroyed

January 20, 1816

VIII

Concepción damaged

November 19, 1822

X

Valparaíso destroyed

August 29, 1824

VIII

Santiago damaged

December 24, 1825

VIII

Santiago damaged

September 26, 1829

VIII

Valparaíso damaged

October 01, 1829

VIII

Santiago damaged

December 24, 1831

VIII

Concepción damaged

January 21, 1832

VIII

Chiloé Island damaged

February 20, 1835a

XI

Concepción destroyed

April 26, 1836

VIII

Los Angeles damaged

November 07, 1837

X

Valdivia, Osorno, and Ancud damaged

December 06, 1850

VIII

Santiago damaged

April 02, 1851

VIII

Valparaíso and Santiago damaged

October 09, 1862

VIII

Nacimiento damaged

April 29, 1869

VIII

Talca damaged

May 09, 1877a

XI

~ 9

Arica and Iquique destroyed

August 15, 1880

X

Valparaíso and Santiago damaged

March 13, 1896

VIII

Valparaíso damaged

July 23, 1898

VIII

Concepción damaged

August 16, 1906

XI

8.2

Valparaíso destroyed

June 13, 1907

X

Valdivia damaged

January 29, 1914

VIII

7.6

Talca damaged

March 01, 1919

VIII

7.2

Castro destroyed

August 20, 1920

VIII

Isla Mocha damaged

November 10, 1922

X

8.5

Vallenar destroyed

April 14, 1927

X

Santiago and Mendoza (Arg.) destroyed

December 01, 1928

X

Talca damaged

January 24, 1939

XI

7.6

Chillán and Concepción destroyed

April 06, 1943a

X

8.2

Ovalle destroyed

September 22, 1943

VIII

Chillán damaged

September 13, 1945

VIII

Rancagua damaged

June 25, 1946

VIII

Chillán damaged

April 19, 1949

X

Angol destroyed

May 06, 1953

X

Ñuble damaged

December 06, 1953

X

Calama damaged

May 22, 1960a

XII

9.5

Valdivia and Puerto Saavedra destroyed

December 22, 1968

VIII

7.8

Taltal destroyed

July 08, 1971a

VIII

7.8

La Ligua and Illapel destroyed

March 03, 1985a

VIII

8.0

San Antonio and Valparaíso damaged

July 30, 1995a

VIII

8.0

Antofagasta damaged

October 10, 1997

VIII

7.9

Punitaqui destroyed

June 13, 2005

VIII

7.8

Pica destroyed. Iquique damaged

November 14, 2007

VIII

7.7

Tocopilla damaged

February 27, 2010a

XI

8.8

Destruction from San Antonio to Concepción

April 01, 2014a

IX

8.2

Alto Hospicio and Iquique damaged

September 16, 2015a

IX

8.4

Damage from Ovalle to Los Vilos

December 25, 2016a

VIII

7.6

Damage in Chiloé Island

a Observed tsunami

Source: Authors, 2021, based on Centro Sismológico Nacional (2020a), CREDEN (2016), Palacios Roa (2016), Madariaga et al. (2010), and Madariaga et al. (2010), among others.

Perhaps less detailed than earthquake records, and yet very important to understanding the development of natural hazards governance in Chile, is the record of disasters related to other natural threats. Table 2 summarizes the most relevant disasters triggered by natural extreme events. Between 1900 and 2020, at least 117 disasters occurred in Chile, affecting a total of 12.5 million people and causing US$41.2 billion in damages. The table does not count small- and medium-intensity hazardous events.

Table 2. Summary of Disasters Triggered by Natural Extreme Events in Chile, 1900–2020

Category*

Total Events

Total People Affected

Total Cost (1000’s USD)

Earthquakes (incl. tsunamis)

30

9,922,748

35,484,070

Flood

35

1,657,667

2,297,600

Wildfires

13

21,734

1,464,000

Extreme temperature and storms

23

590,579

1,029,300

Volcanic activity

9

86,650

685,000

Drought

2

120,000

255,000

Landslides

5

82,983

6,000

* EM-DAT categorization.

Source: Based on CREDEN (2016); CRED-UCL (2020); and Sandoval (2018).

The creation, consolidation, and updating of regulatory and institutional frameworks on disaster risk management (DRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in Chile came about as reactions to important disasters. Not all disasters are directly linked to different institutional transformations in the Chilean history, but collectively these have become a fundamental factor in understanding the current mode of DRM in the country (Sandoval & Voss, 2018). For instance, the 1928 Talca earthquake advanced the creation of the first Chilean Law on Urban Planning and Construction. The 1939 Chillán earthquake provided the basis for earthquake-resistant construction standards called the Chilean Standard for Seismic Design of Buildings No. 429 (NCh429 and NCh430). The 1960 Valdivia earthquake and tsunami gave rise to the National Emergency Office (Oficina Nacional de Emergencia [ONEMI]), and the 1985 Central Chile earthquake caused a further strengthening of existing standards for earthquake-resistant buildings, as enforced in the NCh433 code. An effect of the 2010 Maule earthquake (8.8 Mw) and tsunami was to initiate a parliamentary bill to establish a new national system of civil protection, including the creation of a new National Agency of Civil Protection. However, that bill has remained under consideration by parliament since 2011 without action. This raises some questions about the low interest of parliament members and politicians in developing the DRM in the country (Sandoval et al., 2015).

Main Hazards Affecting Chilean Territory: Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions

Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Chile is one of the most seismic regions in the world (Pagani et al., 2018). The convergence of the South American continental plate and the Nazca plate throughout the Chilean coastline (subduction zone) tends to cause periodic earthquakes of varying magnitudes, including massive ones such as the 9.5Mw earthquake of 1960 in Valdivia —the largest earthquake ever recorded in modern history (U.S. Geological Survey, 2016)—and the 8.8Mw Maule earthquake in 2010 (Moreno et al., 2010). Figure 2 illustrates Chile’s level of exposure to ground movement and the location of the country on the subduction zone.

Figure 2. Hazard exposure to earthquakes in Chile.

Source: Based on Rhea et al. (2010).

Seismogenic zones are well observed and categorized in Chile. There are seven significant rupture areas: Arica–Tocopilla (17–22°S); Antofagasta–Taltal (22–25°S); Copiapó (26–29°S); La Serena–La Ligua (30–33°S); Valparaíso–Pichilemu (33–35°S); Pichilemu–Concepción (35–37°S); and Arauco Península–Taitao Península (38–45°S). On average in the last five centuries, a destructive earthquake of magnitude (Mw) greater than 8 has occurred every 10 years somewhere in the Chilean territory (Silbergleit & Prezzi, 2012). The Arica–Tocopilla zone, also known as the Iquique Seismic Gap or Northern Chile Seismic Gap (Hayes et al., 2014), is of particular interest among scientists.

Thus, earthquakes have somehow become part of the collective identity of Chileans, codified in popular culture through the oral tradition before Spanish domination in the 16th century (Sandoval, 2018). Another characteristic related to its location is its volcanism. Chile counts nearly 2,000 volcanoes—the second highest figure after Indonesia (Venzke, 2013)—of which 90 are considered active systems and 45 are regularly monitored (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería [SERNAGEOMIN], 2020b).

In terms of significant eruptive episodes, the most historically active volcanoes have been Llaima (8), Villarrica (6), and Antuco (4), followed by Peteroa (3), Lonquimay (3), and Calbuco (3) (CREDEN, 2016). The first documented eruption in Chile was in 1600, when the current Chilean–Peruvian border was shocked by the eruption of the Huainaputina volcano, affecting the cities of Arica and Arequipa (Urrutia & Lanza, 1993).

A volcanic environment created on convergent plate boundaries predominates. There are three volcanic zones of the Andean Cordillera placed in Chile (Stern et al., 2007): the Andean Central Volcanic Zone in the northern part of Chile (17–27°S) and shared with Bolivia and Peru; the Andean Southern Volcanic Zone in central south Chile (33–46°S); and the Austral Volcanic Zone in southern Chile (49–55°S).

Figure 3 shows the Andean volcanic zones with presence in Chile and the related hazard exposure in the country, as well as examples of significant eruptive episodes according to Volcanic Explosivity Index.

Figure 3. Hazard exposure to volcanic activity in Chile and historical examples of Volcanic Explosivity Index.

Source: Based on SERNAGEOMIN (2018, 2020a).

Figure 3 also illustrates that the highest levels of exposure to volcanic activity in Chile are located in the central area. This is related to the concentration of active volcanic systems and the presence of important urban agglomerations and critical infrastructure (SERNAGEOMIN, 2020a). About 80% of the national population lives in Central Chile.

Hydrological, Meteorological, and Climatological Hazards

As Chile’s boundaries start about 620 km north of the Tropic of Capricorn and end about 1,350 km north of the Antarctic Circle, an important diversity of climates is found in its territory. Subsequently, Chile can be categorized in many different geographical zones. Since the 1960s, Chilean geographers have differentiated this territory into five zones or macro regions (Sarricolea et al., 2017): Norte Grande; Norte Chico; Zona Central; Zona Sur; and Sur Austral. The predominant climates are high tundra and Mediterranean. Figure 4 shows the spatial distribution of Köppen–Geiger climate types in Chile and their percentages in terms of prevailing distribution per macro region.

Figure 4. Köppen–Geiger climate types in Chile.

Source: Based on Sarricolea et al. (2017).

Disasters triggered by hydrological and meteorological events linked to climate conditions are significant in Chile. Historical climate studies have shown that between 1525 and 2020 at least 203 hazardous events related to floods and heavy rainfall episodes that caused important human and economic losses were reported in Chile (Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters-Universite Catholique de Louvain [CRED-UCL], 2020; CREDEN, 2016; Ortlieb, 1993; Ortlieb et al., 2002; Quinn & Neal, 1983). According to the CRED-UCL (2020), between 1900 and 2020, 78 extreme climate events (i.e., drought and wildfires, floods and landslides, and extreme temperature and storms) caused US$5.01 billion in economic losses and 1,819 deaths. Many of these events were associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which tends to produce particularly rainy and dry years (Ortega et al., 2019; Ortlieb et al., 2002). In Chile, the ENSO’s dramatic rainfall variation tends to trigger flooding and mudflows that cause loss of life and erode people’s livelihoods. These events also intensify climate-related events such as heavy rain and drought as consequences of climate change (Garreaud et al., 2020). Projections into the 21st century suggest that Chile will experience a reduction in annual precipitation of 15–30% (Ortega et al., 2019; Zappa et al., 2020) along with an intensification of storms and other rapid onset extreme events, such as the massive alluvion that ended in disaster on March 25, 2015, in Atacama (Paicho Hidalgo et al., 2018).

On interannual time scales, ENSO is also a leading driver of droughts. However, with the effects of anthropogenic forcing, periods of drought have tended to increase their length and intensity. In 2020, Central Chile continued to experience a sequence of dry years that began in 2010 with a mean rainfall deficit of 25–45% (Garreaud et al., 2020). The so-called Central Chile Mega Drought is the longest event on record in Chile, with negative effects such as increase in forest fires and water scarcity that have translated into severe social impacts (Garreaud et al., 2017, 2020). In this case, rural communities face a far worse scenario than cities with shortages of water for human consumption and agriculture, an asymmetry that has been well documented (Aldunce et al., 2017). Unfortunately, studies of how the mega drought is related to climate migration and on the recent increase of informal settlements are lacking (CIS TECHO-Chile, 2015). Since the 1990s, wildfire activity in Central and South–Central Chile has increased by around 50% (González et al., 2018). Figure 5 shows the geographic distribution of forest fires between 1985 and 2018, and the main metropolitan areas that have been affected. It also shows the number of fires and burned area (in hectares) during the same period. Between 1976 and 2018 there were 5,445 wildfire events that burned 65,801 ha per year (Lara et al., 2019). In 2000–2020, forest fires increasingly affected wildland–urban interface areas, causing loss of human lives and the destruction of hundreds of homes and public and private infrastructure (Sarricolea et al., 2020).

Figure 5. Forest fires in Chile between 1985 and 2018: Number, distribution, and extension.

Source: Based on Lara et al. (2019).

Technical and Operational Details of Natural Hazards Governance in Chile

The constellation of laws, institutions, and related regulatory frameworks governing disaster risk management (DRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in Chile is vast and diverse. Sandoval and Voss (2018) mapped institutional forms that deal with DRM and DRR (see Figure 6). They assert that the Chilean model of DRM and DRR reproduces its overall state territorial organization, which is characterized by a centralized and top-down approach (Sandoval & Voss, 2018). This translates into limited opportunities for community and grassroots organizations to participate in discussions of DRR and decision-making (Gonzalez-Muzzio & Sandoval, 2016) and centralizes post-disaster processes such as reconstruction (Gould et al., 2016).

Figure 6. Map of the institutional forms related to disaster risk management and disaster risk reduction in Chile.

Source: Based on Sandoval and Voss (2018).

The National Emergency Office (ONEMI) takes a central role among institutional forms for DRM and DRR in Chile because it is the main public and national effort for the coordination of prevention and preparedness, early warning, response, and rehabilitation. In addition, according to the National Civil Protection System (Sistema Nacional de Protección Civil), the other two administrative levels (regional and municipal) are required by law to establish Civil Protection Committees (Comité de Protección Civil [CPC]), which, in turn, must elaborate a planning document for implementing prevention and preparedness actions in relation to DRM and DRR (Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública, 2002).

CPCs are composed of representatives from public and private agencies, and their structure varies according to the territorial level they represent. CPC activity is important for reducing risks as they work to put in place measures to reduce potential losses and to promote preparedness, for example, with Municipal Emergency Plans. But not all municipalities comply with the emergency plans, nor do all CPCs meet regularly or use a democratic approach in decision-making (Gould et al., 2016; Sandoval et al., 2017). The centralized top-down approach to DRR/DRM described by Sandoval and Voss (2018) could explain these problematic dynamics. Likewise, although CPCs are predisaster oriented, CPCs lack mechanisms and power to tackle root causes of disaster vulnerability such as free market land-use patterns. CPCs also have very limited integration with other planning instruments such as municipal regulatory plans governing urban expansion over natural landscapes and regional plans of territorial planning that address, for instance, industrial megaprojects on mining and forestry (Sandoval, 2017).

During large disasters, the ONEMI must establish temporary Emergency Operation Centers (Centros de Operación de Emergencia [COEs]), depending on what territorial level is affected. COEs are responsible for coordinating decisions and actions during response, relief, and rehabilitation. COEs are headed by representatives of territorial governments that are part of CPCs. Depending on the scale of the disaster this means the president of the Republic and national minister of interior, the regional governor, or the municipal mayor. Representatives from critical agencies such as health, law enforcement, fire brigades, and armed forces, and sometimes private and civil organizations participate in COEs, depending on the nature of the emergency or disaster (Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública, 2002). In common with CPCs, researchers have pointed out that COEs rarely integrate community and grassroots views on emergency response (Gould et al., 2016; Sandoval et al., 2017). Figure 7 illustrates the hierarchical structure of the decision-making process within the National System of Civil Protection. This figure is based on the example of wildfire as an emergency to illustrate the operational side of the national plan.

Figure 7. Structure of the National System of Civil Protection and ONEMI’s role.

Source: Based on Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública (2002).

A critical element of ONEMI is the National Early Warning Center (Centro Nacional de Alerta Temprana), whose mission is to maintain and concentrate communication with critical monitoring services of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity, floods, and forest fires on a 24/7 basis (ONEMI, 2020). Likewise, in 2015, ONEMI took important steps to promote DRR in the country, following the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015. Between 2015 and 2016, ONEMI introduced the National Policy for Disaster Risk Management and crated the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. The latter aims to engage DRR and DRM actors from different sectors (i.e., civil society, academia, and private and public institutions) and territorial levels to advise ONEMI and promote the national policy on DRM.

Monitoring, Early Warning, and Response for Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanic Eruptions

The National Seismological Center (CSN) is responsible for monitoring and delivering critical seismological information to the ONEMI and the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy (Servicio Hidrográfico y Oceanográfico de la Armada [SHOA]; CSN, 2020b). ONEMI and SHOA evaluate this information to trigger specific warnings and response procedures in the affected locations, including the potential of tsunami and evacuations. To that end, CSN depends on the National Seismological Network (Red Sismológica Nacional), which consists of a network of 297 multiparametric seismological stations located in the national territory. Utilizing redundant communication channels, data generated by the stations during an earthquake is delivered within a period not exceeding 5 minutes to the ONEMI and SHOA (CSN, 2020b). CSN collaborates with the National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN) to carry out studies that evaluate the behavior of soils during the occurrence of earthquakes in the Chilean territory. These studies are important for understanding the stability of buildings and the likelihood of secondary hazards such as landslides. Figure 8 shows the national seismic zoning map, which categorizes the country in three main zones (i.e., 3, 2, and 1) according to peak ground acceleration (A0).

Figure 8. Seismic zone maps of Chile contained in NCh433.

Source: Based on INN (2009).

Seismic–geological zoning maps provide critical data for the development and update of construction standards and urban planning such as the Chilean Standard for Seismic Design of Buildings NCh433 of 1996, updated in 2009 (Instituto Nacional de Normalización [INN], 2009), and the diverse Territorial Planning Instruments (Instrumentos de Planificación Territorial [IPTs]) used for urban planning and regional development. Nevertheless, there are two problematic aspects of these planning instruments. First, while IPTs can include risk assessments, they are not mandatory in the planning process in urban and rural areas (Moris et al., 2017). Second, although IPT guidelines include vulnerability as part of risk assessment, vulnerability is considered only in physical terms, meaning physical vulnerability of buildings and not socioeconomic vulnerability (Sandoval, 2017). As Sandoval (2017) pointed out, IPTs adopt a technocentric approach with an underlying belief that disasters and risks can be reduced by mastering the physical dimensions of hazards and vulnerability.

In relation to tsunamis triggered by earthquakes, the SHOA operates the National Tsunami Warning System (Sistema Nacional de Alarma de Maremotos) and uses a network of 46 coastal digital stations that monitor sea level and tsunami propagation. Likewise, five Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami stations are also able to detect tsunamis. These stations and SHOA are part of a wider network of actors that monitor tsunami activity in the Pacific basin. SHOA can receive critical data from international actors, and can generate its own tsunami data. The data are delivered to ONEMI and other maritime authorities (i.e., public and private) to trigger warnings and response mechanisms. SHOA also manages the Tsunami Inundation Maps Project (Proyecto Cartas de Inundación por Tsunami), which supports the assessment of tsunami impacts and the identification of coastal areas prone to flooding. This information is critical to the development of risk maps in coastal areas throughout the territorial planning process (SHOA, 2020), however, as noted earlier, risk assessments are not mandatory in all IPTs (Moris et al., 2017).

Monitoring and early warning systems for volcanic hazards in Chile are allocated to the Southern Andean Volcano Observatory supported by SERNAGEOMIN. Response is undertaken by ONEMI. The observatory monitors 45 active volcanoes with 420 stations and tracks geodesic, geochemical, and seismological measurements (SERNAGEOMIN, 2018). The observatory data are delivered to ONEMI’s early warning center and other corresponding authorities in affected locations. SERNAGEOMIN also handles the Volcanic Hazards Mapping program, which assists IPTs with efforts such as regional development plans.

Finally, the data collected and analyzed by each service are delivered to and interpreted by ONEMI technicians through its 24/7 early warning center, which establishes the destructive potential of a given hazard and ultimately informs political authorities who decide on response measures.

Monitoring, Early Warning, and Response for Hydrological, Meteorological, and Climatological Hazards

Due to climate change and an expected increase of hydro- and meteorological events, the monitoring of watersheds and extreme weather conditions has recently intensified in Chile. After severe floods in 2015 in northern and central Chile (Wilcox et al., 2016), ONEMI has tried to improve its monitoring system for watersheds by incorporating private actors in its monitoring network (ONEMI, 2016). ONEMI receives daily meteorological data from the air force’s Directorate of Meteorology of Chile (Dirección Meteorológica de Chile) and the General Directorate of Waters (Dirección General de Aguas), which is then used to produce early warnings for affected areas following ONEMI’s protocols. A missing part of this governance mechanism is inclusion of communities at the local level who could provide valuable information on everyday hazards as well as support early warnings. Another issue detected by Müller et al. (2011) is that the data and ONEMI’s protocols on urban flood risk are not integrated with social variables influencing vulnerability. This fact again reveals the technocentric approach to disaster risk reduction (Sandoval, 2017).

Climate and weather information is also used for modeling climatic hazards such as drought. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Agroclimatic Observatory of the National Agroclimatic Network produces maps and indicators that show up-to-date drought conditions in the Chilean territory (Unidad Nacional de Emergencias Agrícolas & Gestión del Riesgo Agroclimático, 2020). The observatory also includes a warning system to communicate emergencies related to sustained water scarcity and heat waves.

The National Forest Corporation (Corporación Nacional Forestal [CONAF]) oversees implementing Chile’s forest policy and protecting forest resources (CONAF, 2020b). To monitor fires, CONAF maintains a network of forest and environmental monitoring systems, the Digital Information System for Operations Control (Sistema de Información Digital para el Control de Operaciones [SIDCO]). Through SIDCO, fire detection and monitoring occur thanks to radio observers strategically placed in surveillance towers, by ground and aerial vehicles, cameras, and the Logging and Extraction Monitoring Unit (Sistema de Monitoreo de Extracción y Cosecha Forestal), a user-friendly platform that uses Google Earth Engine technology to detect changes in forest cover, including fires (CONAF, 2020a). Initially, SIDCO enables fire response coordination among CONAF personnel and disposition of its fire-fighting resources, while it also delivers fires detection data to ONEMI’s early warning center. Following specific protocols, ONEMI ultimately decides on triggering warnings—especially if fires may affect urban areas—and coordinates response with local authorities and other agencies, such as law enforcement, (urban) fire brigades, and others (see the fire-specific example in Figure 7). CONAF does not produce fire exposure data, nor is CONAF’s data used in urban and regional planning instruments.

Politico-Economic and Socioecological Elements of Risk Creation and Vulnerability

Many root causes and dynamic pressures that drive the creation of risk and degree of vulnerability under which groups of people live include the way that power and wealth are divided in society (Voss, 2008, 2019; Wisner et al., 2004). Several authors have adopted politico-economic and socioecological perspectives to explore outcomes of long-term neoliberal policies in Chile (Budds, 2004). The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990) brought about structural economic reforms that are still in place, characterized by a free-market approach, privatization, and deregulation (Harvey, 2005; Solimano, 2012). These neoliberal reforms affect socioenvironmental impacts and high levels of disaster vulnerability across the country due to permissive policies on mining, forest plantations, fish farming, and real estate and urban development, among others.

Some impacts of these reforms include the deregulation of commercial forestry plantations in the Central-Southern Chile and Patagonia-Aysén regions (Aliste et al., 2018). According to Sarricolea et al. (2020), the increase of fires in wildland–urban interface areas in the period 2010–2020 can be traced to neoliberal economic policies in place since 1974. These policies enabled a rapid conversion of large landscape areas to fast-growing commercial and monoculture plantations, negatively impacting ecosystems and biodiversity. Along with a laissez-faire real estate development (Rodríguez, 2020), the accumulation of highly flammable, continuous fuel load within commercial forest plantations has resulted in devastating fires and disasters, such as those that occurred in the metropolitan areas of Concepción–Talcahuano in 2017 (BBC Mundo, 2017) and Valparaiso in 2019 (BBC Mundo, 2019). From this perspective, both permissive forest and urban policies as well as predatory industrial development are among the root causes of urban risk of forest fire. Moreover, De la Maza (2020) pointed out that indigenous peoples have historically been most affected by neoliberal policies on resource-based industries such as forestry and mining, creating vulnerabilities associated with poverty, marginalization, and prevalence in precarious and unsafe settlements (CIS TECHO-Chile, 2015).

Neoliberal urban reforms introduced in the 1980s removed planning regulations to enable a free-market model of urban land allocation to the most profitable land use, a model that persists in early 21st-century Chile (Navarrete-Hernandez & Toro, 2019). The rapid expansion of the city by predatory real estate developers without any compensation mechanisms has generated peripheral precarious settlements with poor access to public services or none at all (Navarrete-Hernandez & Toro, 2019). Although a substantial improvement in the provision of basic urban services is observed, such as in access to potable water (99.9%) and connection to sewerage (96.5%) in urban areas (Sandoval & Sarmiento, 2020), the precariousness of housing materials and the built environment continues (Castro et al., 2015). This includes construction on steep slopes, high density, poor drainage, and proximity to flammable peri-urban forests (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Precarious settlements in Valparaiso exposed to fires in 2019 and 2014.

Source: Vicente Sandoval, 2019 (left); Ciny Norero, 2014 (right).

The earlier dictatorship’s repression and violence contributed enormously in demobilizing the urban poor and disarticulating communities’ cohesion to the point that these social weaknesses continue to the present day (Rodríguez, 2020; Troncoso et al., 2019). Hence, the Pinochet’s legacy of dismantling communities and liberalizing land use investment turned wildland–urban interface areas into vulnerability hotspots susceptible to large and everyday hazards. In this context, consideration of natural hazards governance not only encompasses the technical and operational details of hazard but also their historical, political, economic, and cultural root causes.

Understanding of how social vulnerability has been impacted by these root causes can be enhanced by employing the optic of environmental justice (Sandoval et al., 2017). The Chilean economy is largely based on extractive industries. Since 1976 there has been little regulatory control over these activities and associated investment. In fact, the Chilean state territorial organization facilitates this extractivist approach with politically centralized decision-making combined with economically decentralized and liberalized investment policy and poor planning and supervision by the state (Bustos Gallardo et al., 2019). This has created numerous socioenvironmental conflicts throughout the Chilean territory where resource-based companies have settled, with various hazardous impacts on local communities, especially on indigenous groups (Bolados García, 2016).

One example of the latter is the uneven implementation of water rights during the Pinochet’s dictatorship, which facilitated the degradation of habitats and ecosystems by transnational mining companies and other water-based economic activities that created or exacerbated vulnerabilities in surrounding communities (Klubock, 2020; Olmos-Herrera, 2014). It is not surprising that indigenous communities near hazardous industrial and extractive activities are among those most vulnerable to large and everyday hazards. As vulnerability patterns differ among population groups and geographically, natural hazards governance should look at not only specific locations and their immediate unsafe conditions but also the multiplicity of actors and their roles in a wider economic, political, and social context. Chilean authorities do not yet do that, although to facilitate “risk-aware development” is one of the guiding principles of the United Nations’ Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, of which Chile is a signatory (Wisner, 2020).

The Roles of Civil Society and Nongovernmental Organizations

We use the terms civil society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to refer to nonprofit formal and informal organizations, including but not limited to community and indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, state-funded academic and research institutions, and foundations (Wisner et al., 2020). These organizations play many roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency response, from conventional roles such as delivery of services, community mobilization, and bridging between government and local communities, to promotion of prevention culture and education, resilience and disaster memory, influence in policymaking, and research and science dissemination.

The February 27, 2010, Maule earthquake (27F; 8.8 Mw) became a turning point in many senses, including for NGOs. The 27F produced the greatest human and economic losses in recent Chilean history; 525 deaths and US$30 billion in damage (CRED-UCL, 2020; Gobierno de Chile, 2014). This event also stimulated the emergence of organizations concerned with sustainable disaster reconstruction and, later, to boosting DRR in the country (Gonzalez-Muzzio & Sandoval, 2016). Mobilization of civil society in this instance provides an overview of the range of nongovernmental institutions in Chile and their roles in natural hazard governance.

In regard to response, the Chilean Humanitarian Aid Network (Red de Ayuda Humanitaria Chilena) attempted to coordinate disaster response, rehabilitation, and reconstruction actions among communities and civil society organizations from national to local levels (ONEMI, 2016). Some of the participating organizations were those that work with vulnerable communities such as the Chilean Red Cross, Caritas, Girl and Boy Scout Association, Education in Disasters (Educación en Desastres), Fundación para la Superación de la Pobreza, and Volunteering Psychologists of Chile.

Other organizations included those working to reduce underlying risk factors associated with poverty and risk awareness. One of these is the Lift Up Chile Challenge (Desafío Levantemos Chile, DLCh), which after the 27F earthquake began to rehabilitate small businesses and family workshops. In the early 21st century, DLCh continues with humanitarian response in Chile and abroad and has extended its work to projects related to social inclusion, community health, prevention culture and education, and development of voluntarism (DLCh 2020).

Survivors of the 15-floor Alto Rio building that totally collapsed due to the 27F earthquake in 2010 created the Fundación Alto Rio to disseminate lessons learned from the disaster, related to the risks of laissez-faire real estate development and corruption in the construction sector (Goycoolea, 2012). The organization works at the regional and national levels to influence policymaking, promotion of seismic culture and preparedness education, and disaster history and memory (Fundación Alto Río, 2020). Proyecta Memoria Foundation, also initiated after the 27F, aims to reconstruct the destroyed material and symbolic heritage of communities. The foundation has worked at the national level to promote social and urban transformations, using collective memory of disaster vulnerable communities to enhance resilient neighborhoods (Fundación Proyecta Memoria, 2020).

TECHO is another important actor. This NGO has a long history of responding to disaster situations, such as earthquakes in Peru (2007), Haiti (2010), and Chile (2010). TECHO is probably the largest NGO in Chile with projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The organization develops large projects to build transitional shelters called mediaguas for people living in slums and informal settlements in the region. TECHO’s approach is based on using reconstruction and housing projects to prepare the way for social inclusion initiatives such as education and healthcare and helping residents to develop sustainable livelihoods and neighborhoods (TECHO Internacional, 2018). Grass roots organizations adopt a more political and radical approach to tackle urban precariousness, such as the Movement of Inhabitants in Struggle (Movimiento de Pobladores en Lucha) and the National Union of Pobladores (Federación Nacional de Pobladores). These social movements stand against the neoliberal dogma of market supremacy, arguing that the free-market model of housing and disaster reconstruction have (re)created spatially unjust cities before and after disasters, with uneven distributions of vulnerability and risks (Pulgar Pinaud, 2016).

The 27F also promoted more scientific interest in natural hazards and disasters, influencing the development of an unprecedented number of interdisciplinary research centers and other research initiatives in the country (CREDEN, 2016). These include the National Research Center for Integrated Disaster Management (CIGIDEN); Research Center for Vulnerability and Socio–Natural Disasters; Transdisciplinary Research Program on Disaster Risk; Research Center for Natural and Anthropogenic Risks; Institute for Disaster Resilience; and the Journal of Latin American Studies on Disaster Risk Reduction, among others. In the 2020s, these new research institutions have incorporated interdisciplinary perspectives to complement their original focus on technology and natural sciences in the study of hazards. For instance, CIGIDEN involves collaboration among geoscientists, engineers, psychologists, sociologists, urban planners, graphic designers, and artists, among others. Moreover, CIGIDEN researchers participate in high-level discussions and government meetings, opening up opportunities to transform natural hazards and risk governance by influencing policymaking (Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica, 2020).

A Note on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Chile

In February 2021, Chile and the world were still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 is one of the worst worldwide health disasters (or catastrophes) triggered by biological hazards in the 20th and 21st centuries (Lavell et al., 2020). In Chile, there have been other influenza outbreaks, in 1773, 1889–1890, and 1918, the latter being the Spanish flu that killed more than 40,000 people in Chile (López & Beltrán, 2013). Cholera epidemics have also been significant the country, with important outbreaks in 1830, 1846, 1865, and 1883; the 1883 outbreak killed more than 23,000 people (Laval, 2003).

By mid-2021, Chile had reported about 1.6 million cases of COVID-19 (the first 100 cases were detected by March 16, 2020) and more than 36,000 deaths (Gobierno de Chile, 2021). Before the outbreak, Chile ranked very low in terms of hospital beds among OECD countries—2.1 per 1,000 habitants (PAHO, 2012), and its level of inequality in access to health services was a red flag. Public health was almost entirely privatized in the 1970s, and it remains so. For instance, the number of years of potential life lost (YPLL) in the lowest income decile is 273.9 per 1,000 inhabitants (before the age of 80), while the figure is only 181.2 YPLL per 1,000 in the highest decile (PAHO, 2012). Chile’s health inequalities mirror inequality patterns in education and pensions, both of which are also privatized (Solimano, 2012). Moreover, unequal access to health services is reflected in terms geographical distribution (e.g., specialists per region) and among social groups (e.g., by gender and ethnic identity; PAHO, 2012). Perhaps for these reasons, the government decided to centralize all health response to the COVID-19, including taking control of private clinics, at an early stage of the pandemic in April 2020. This response seeks to secure that all citizens, and not only the rich, have equal access to health services.

A recent study by Vergara Perucich et al. (2020) tracked spatial incidence of COVID-19 in Chilean cities and subregions. The authors pointed out significant relationships between socioeconomic indicators with exposure and vulnerability to COVID-19. Other authors, such as Bacigalupe et al. (2020a, 2020b) and Gonzalez et al. (2020a, 2020b), have contested Chile’s response to COVID-19 by reporting the government’s neoliberal rationale behind questionable measures such as the so-called dynamic quarantines and the “Paso a Paso” (Step by Step) plan in April and July 2020, respectively. The latter aimed to re-open the economy after lockdowns. According to these authors, the Chilean government has opted for preserving key economic activities and protecting the market over supporting the health of working people.

It is therefore likely that an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the poor and those living in unequal, precarious, and unsafe conditions (Palacios Guajardo et al., 2020). This is a dire reminder of something quite often found empirically in disaster research: “in general the poor suffer more from hazards than do the rich” (Wisner et al., 2004, p. 12). Clearly, in Chile, vulnerability to COVID-19 is socially constructed, as is vulnerability to the other hazards discussed in this article (Lavell et al., 2020).

Discussion and Conclusion

Centralized, top-down management of disaster risk and response as seen in Chile may seem positive from a logistical point of view (Scott & Tarazona, 2011), but it has been criticized for lacking a long-term view on DRR and for not tackling the root causes of disaster risk creation, such as the dominance in Chile of a neoliberal economic model that carries with it associated inequality levels. Chile has one of the highest GINI coefficients (44.4 in 2017) in the region (World Bank, 2020), meaning income is highly unequally distributed. In addition, the Chilean approach to natural hazard governance assigns a dominant role to the private sector and the market in regard to reconstruction (Gonzalez-Muzzio & Sandoval, 2018). For instance, the use of “reconstruction gift cards” for affected people after the 2015 Valparaiso fires only benefited large retail companies and not small and medium local businesses or community shops (Gonzalez-Muzzio & Sandoval, 2018). Likewise, deregulation, privatization, and market liberalization in planning policies promoted urban sprawl, encouraging the development of peripheral informal settlements and gated communities alike in hazardous areas (Barton & Ramírez, 2019).

Lack of trust in authorities is a hazards governance factor that has not been widely studied in Chile but could have serious consequences for the implementation of future plans and preparedness programs. Bronfman et al. (2016) found that ONEMI and SHOA are among the governmental institutions with the lowest levels of trust in Chile. According to these authors, trust issues are linked to how government institutions handled the 27F disaster response and reconstruction, especially how neoliberal practices tended to take over post-disaster reconstruction processes (Sandoval et al., 2020).

In conclusion, the governance of natural hazards in Chile has many faces. On the one hand, the figures on the reduction of disaster impacts in terms of life and recovery seem to support the idea that Chile has a strong and effective disaster risk management system. This includes the use of sophisticated and integrated monitoring systems for earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydro- and meteorological events, and fires, along with coordinated response actors under the direction of ONEMI. On the other hand, the Chilean political economy model reproduces the root causes of disaster vulnerability through socioeconomic inequalities as well as poorly regulated urbanization and the practices of extractive industries. Chile has the highest economic losses and exposure levels among OECD countries (BEH & IFHV, 2019). Thus, the governance of hazards and risk reduction still have a long way to go to secure the country’s path to sustainable human development.

Further Reading

References