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World Bank Provides Technical Expertise to Support Chile Earthquake Response

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  • Bank experts to provide satellite imagery analysis similar to information provided in Haiti earthquake response.
  • Collecting data, images in Chile may pose greater challenge as damage is more widespread.
  • Bank considers damage assessment support in Chile, mirroring current Haiti mission.

WASHINGTON DC, March 2, 2010 -Fresh from helping assess Haiti's earthquake damage, the World Bank will support Chile’s emergency response to the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that shattered the South American country February 27, killing hundreds of people and impacting the lives of over 2 million.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick said Saturday that the Bank was ready to assist the victims of Chile’s massive earthquake as he expressed his condolences in the wake of the disaster that hit the center and south of the country.

“Our thoughts are with the people of Chile at this difficult time,” said Zoellick. “The World Bank stands ready to support the Chilean government in any way it may find useful.”

In the initial phase of a four-step assistance plan, Bank experts will provide satellite imagery analysis to assess infrastructure damage and technical expertise, as part of the Bank’s alliance with an army of volunteers rallied under the catastrophe assessment network GEO-CAN and the Crisis Camp --a grass-root movement of developers that provide critical solutions to communications on the ground in disaster-stricken areas.

At a later stage, the Bank would provide direct technical assistance and support the government of Chile in the assessment of damages, said World Bank senior disaster risk management specialist Joaquin Toro.

Toro explained that collecting data and images from the ground might pose a greater challenge than in Haiti as the damage in Chile is more widespread. However, he said, Chile already has a wealth of pictorial information from before the earthquake that can be used as comparative data in the assessment process.

Additionally, his team has already been tested in Haiti.

“We will be relying on a network of over 600 institutions from 20 countries that was developed to assess the damage in Haiti with great success,” argued Toro, who heads a small but dedicated team of experts grouped under the Disaster Risk Management unit of the World Bank’ s Latin American and Caribbean arm.

To collect images from the damage on the ground in Haiti, Toro and his group partnered with universities, private sector businesses and government agencies that set up an efficient round-the-clock operation to obtain the images in record time. The initiative, managed from a Haiti ‘situation room’, was able to reduce the preliminary assessment work of the damage on the ground from several weeks to 36 hours –which was crucial to save lives and help determine the real cost of the earthquake.

While aircraft from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), collected high-res images from the ground in Port-au-Prince, a giant server at the University of Buffalo relayed the photos to several parties for expert analysis and online collaboration. Volunteers included web giants Microsoft and Google, as well as open-source developers such as OpenStreetMap, which provided real-time accurate mapping of Port-au-Prince, as part of the Crisis Camps role in the response effort to the devastating Haiti earthquake of January 12.

This community of technology-savvy volunteers will again provide its crucial support in emergency applications development, communications, and information gathering on the ground.

Their work has already begun. As soon as news of the earthquake broke last Saturday Crisis Camp Chile was set up and several existing online emergency response tools were adapted to the situation in Chile, including People Finder, Tweak the Tweet and CrisisWiki, Toro says. International Crisis Camp communities also linked up with local Chilean tech communities such as ‘Digitales para Chile’, to draw additional volunteer work, he added.

Still, the success of this kind of effort hinges on pinpointing the specific needs of government and civil society, with strong collaboration among the parts.

“Fortunately officials have been prompt to respond to the Bank’s offer to help and right now we’re in the process of identifying with authorities in Chile what those needs are so we can adapt our resources”, Toro explained.

A long history of community involvement in emergency response and Chile’s familiarity with earthquakes should make this job easier, experts believe. The task ahead of them is daunting.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile in the early hours of last Saturday is the seventh most powerful on record, NOAA data shows. Preliminary government estimates suggest that more than 500,000 buildings have been destroyed while thousands of roads, bridges, ports and telecommunications infrastructure are seriously damaged. The official death toll from the quake stands at 497, although this number is likely to rise.

Even as Chile’s earthquake was 500 times stronger than Haiti’s, experts state that stringent building codes and earthquake-resistant housing have contributed to containing the number of casualties and destruction. An additional mitigating factor was the epicenter considerable distance from populated areas, they argue.

“The result of this is that the per capita impact is much less in Chile that it has been in Haiti”, said Toro.