Disaster Politics

Why Natural Disasters Rock Democracies Less

Two men stand on the edge of their apartment in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 2011. Allison Shelley / Courtesy Reuters

On January 12, 2010, Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread destruction and killed approximately 222,000 people. The next month, Chile was hit by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake -- approximately 500 times stronger than that in Haiti -- but only 500 people died.

Why the disparity? For one, Chile rigorously enforces strict building codes, so there was less immediate damage to the infrastructure near the earthquake’s epicenter. The government of President Michelle Bachelet was also quick to act once the earthquake hit. It immediately began to coordinate international and domestic relief efforts to get supplies and shelter to those in need. In contrast, there is no national building code in Haiti, and the country’s government was barely functional even before the earthquake, let alone after. In the weeks that followed the quake, many officials seemed less interested in helping the hundreds of thousands of newly homeless than in

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