SANTIAGO – Four years after the 2010 earthquake that strongly affected part of Chile, the outgoing government of President Sebastian Piñera is saying that reconstruction has been completed, for all practical purposes, although some of the people who suffered property damage say this outlook is too optimistic.
On Feb. 27, 2010, a magnitude-8.8 temblor and subsequent tsunami devastated six regions in the central and southern parts of the country, killing at least 526 people, damaging the property of 800,000 and causing material damage valued at some $30 billion.
Piñera, who was on the verge of succeeding then-President Michelle Bachelet, took on the reconstruction of the country as one of his administration’s main tasks.
Now, with Bachelet set to become president again on March 11, the incumbent is expressing pride at the advancements made in rebuilding what the quake destroyed.
The most delicate matter has been the repair and reconstruction of 222,418 homes.
Critics believe that the government set too ambitious a goal and that in its desire to reach it made mistakes and left the affected people to the side in the process.
More than half of the $4 billion spent on reconstruction went toward housing and all but around 12 percent of the people forced from their homes have had their dwellings repaired or replaced, according to official figures.
Henry Herrera, the coordinator of Citizenship and Territory, a housing and public policy observatory that was founded after the quake, says he feels that Piñera made a mistake in planning the reconstruction as a task that would take only four years.
“It went from being a state effort to an effort by the administration because Piñera limited it to the time period in which he was to govern,” said Herrera in an interview with Efe.
In addition, he said that many of the new homes are of doubtful quality.
The situation is worse in rural and isolated zones, where the reconstruction was “less attractive” for the construction firms who received state subsidies for the work, Herrera said.
Another problem identified by Citizenship and Territory and other organizations is the relocation of affected residents into areas different from where they lived before the catastrophe.
“In many cities, this is producing ... migration from the center to the periphery,” said Herrera.
This has occurred in cities like Constitucion and Talca, where many families were renting two-story adobe houses downtown.
When the buildings collapsed, the owners received a temporary home and remained in the same place, but the families who were renting had to move to zones where government subsidies were being offered, often on the cities’ outskirts, Herrera said.