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Global | 30 Jun 2014

Qué riesgo!

Eight years ago Rocio and her family moved to Pamplona Alta, a suburb of Lima. Coming from the countryside, they moved here in search of a better life. Pamplona Alta is classified as a high-risk-zone where an earthquake can happen any day. Recently, people began to replace the initial shantytown's fragile dwellings with simple stone houses. But, as Rocio says, Pamplona still lacks the most basic structures like pathways, solid stairs and access to water. An earthquake would have a devastating effect. Houses will easily collapse, pathways may be blocked and people buried under the rubble. No wonder Rocio is scared of such a scenario. "Recently they built a wall up on the hill to protect us from falling rocks if the earth rumbles. But if a more severe earthquake happens, there's nowhere to run for protection. The evacuation zone is too far away. It would be a disaster, in particular on these steep slopes with no proper stairs and roads."

In the last 40 years, earthquakes claimed the lives of 80 000 people in South America, costing close to USD 40 billion. The consequences of a quake aren't only determined by its sheer magnitude. Other important factors are access to shelter and hospitals and how well, overall, people are able to respond and recover from the impact.

That is why in 2013 the Swiss Re Foundation and the GEM Foundation teamed-up with experts from across the continent to collect data, analyse earthquake risk holistically and raise awareness of how a community can protect itself. The endgame is for the information to be used to better prepare for an earthquake and help regions like Pamplona Alta and others withstand the impact.

With experts busy at work on this data, action is already being taken. With the knowledge on the tools and methods they gained during a workshop the GEM Foundation organised with partner EAFIT in Medellin, the vulnerability and exposure experts from CIGIDEN for example will soon go out into three Chilean cities.

Having shared knowledge on buildings in their region, using the GEM Building Taxonomy, they will now collect exposure data with GEM’s IDCT tools. The next step is then to develop the exposure models that provide insight into the built environment and are one of the key ingredients for creation of earthquake scenarios.

The data, models and scenarios they and others across the continent are developing, will help decide where best to invest to reduce the risk from earthquakes. This information and other outcomes of the project will as much as possible be shared with the wider community, through the OpenQuake platform and in other ways, to facilitate risk reduction throughout the region.

Local authorities are much interested in participating in the project. The municipality of Quito is a good example of this. The Mayor, Risk Management Director and GEM collaborators in Ecuador are working out a plan for development of tailor-made high quality earthquake risk scenarios. 


"We are excited to see local researchers from all relevant disciplines working together to better understand the full impact of an earthquake on Lima and Quito including not only damage to buildings and infrastructure but also the capacity of populations to recover."
Michel Liès - CEO of Swiss Re Group

The collaborative GEM project in South America is sponsored by the Swiss Re Foundation.