World Economic Forum Latin America 2014

Resilience building, an investment in Latin America's future

As WEF Latin America kicks off in Panama, an earthquake off the coast of Chile reminds us how important disaster risk management and partnering for resilience are.

Today, about 3.5 billion people, 51% of the world's population, live in cities. In Latin America notably, four fifths already live in cities, a number predicted to increase to almost 90% in the next 20 years.

Many of these growing megacities are situated along the coastlines of Latin America, with ever more people, property, industries and infrastructure exposed to severe weather and other natural disaster risks. And the more exposed a city, the bigger the risk to the greater economy and sustainable progress of the country or region.

The regional WEF summit in Latin America kicked off in Panama on April 2. Late the evening before, a powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake shook the sea bed off the coast of Chile and triggered a tsunami along the Pacific Coast. A day later, Panama suffered its own tremor, but no personal or material damage was recorded.

Chile: Preparation pays off

Chile is known for its solid disaster risk management preparation. Early reports indicate that despite its magnitude, the damage from the 2 April quake was relatively minor.

Given that three of the 10 largest earthquakes ever recorded have been in Chile, the people are well accustomed to earthquake survival procedures. Taking the lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake, the Chilean government and security forces quickly evacuated  900,000 people to higher ground due to the tsunami warning.

Chile also has effective mitigation and adaptation measures in place: construction standards for instance require tall buildings to withstand a 9.0 earthquake.

The cost of doing nothing

What Chile shows is that being prepared pays off. Many other highly risk exposed countries in Latin America are aware of this, but still getting there.

Disaster risk preparation may seem like an arduous and costly exercise. But the cost of doing nothing should also be considered. In fact, taking action to improve adaptation and mitigation will not only help avert worst case scenarios, but can also offer ways to drive innovation and development with the ability to strengthen the country's competitive advantage.  For example, infrastructure and service upgrades attract investment and spur job creation, in the long term improving social cohesion and reduction of inequality.

All these aspects are important to Swiss Re and we partner with stakeholders in various ways, in different parts of the world, to explore solutions that can make us more resilient. When many people, in many places, take many small steps – things happen!

Carlos Represas, Swiss Re's head of delegation in Panama, discusses this, and more in a televised panel discussion Towards a New Climate and Development Agenda and also on the WEF blog. Please share your views and contribute to the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #LATAMclimate or on Swiss Re's Open Minds blog.

Published 3 April 2014