Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

Hard lessons from the Chile and Haiti earthquakes


It would seem that school buildings in Chile were much less badly affected because building codes were well developed and enforced, and lessons from past earthquakes have been learned.


The 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010 damaged or destroyed 80% of educational infrastructure, killing 4 000 students and 700 teachers in their schools [1].  The 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which struck Chile on February 27 and occurred during the school vacation period, was the 5th strongest in the country’s history [2]. Education Minister Joaquin Lavin recently reported that earthquake damage to Chile’s schools is estimated at USD 2.1 billion, out of a total damage to infrastructure of up to USD 30 billion. [3] Media reports comparing the two tragedies have noted that school buildings in Chile were much less badly affected because building codes were well developed and enforced, and lessons from past earthquakes have been learned. [4]


In the future, as urban centres develop and populations grow, earthquakes will exact an even heavier toll on school children and schools, which are often used as emergency shelters. Work conducted in this area by the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE), in collaboration with California-based NGO GeoHazards International, also shows that school buildings do not collapse due to lack of scientific understanding, but poor construction. And that is due in part to failure by governments to define and implement effective school earthquake safety programmes. Such programmes - which are described in the OECD Recommendation Concerning Guidelines on Earthquake Safety in Schools -  are characterised by a means to establish clear lines of accountability; to develop and enforce modern building codes; to encourage community awareness and participation; to specify levels of seismic resistance in schools; to train professionals, builders and technicians; and to ensure independent oversight and long-term policy commitment by governments (www.oecd.org/edu/facilities/earthquakes).


Good governance and building code enforcement will reduce the seismic vulnerability of schools and other public buildings, particularly in the health sector. In the wake of these terrible events, as children and families struggle to get on with their lives and reconstruction commences, governments must not underestimate the importance of developing systematic and enforceable school seismic safety programmes to mitigate the negative impact of future tragedies.

1. “In ruined Haiti schools, educators see opportunity”, Associated Press, 1 March 2010, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100301/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/cb_haiti_earthquake.
2.  “Chile's earthquake-delayed school year begins”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 March 2010, http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/mar/08/chiles-earthquake-delayed-school-year-begins/
3.  “Quake repairs on Chile’s educational infrastructure estimated at $2.1B”, The Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20100312-706977.html?mod=dist_smartbrief.
4.  “Chile and Haiti – A tale of two earthquakes”, Time, 28 February 2010, http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100228/wl_time/08599196857600; “Chile-Haiti earthquake comparison: Chile was more prepared”, The Huffington Post, 27 February 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/27/chile-haiti-earthquake-co_n_479705.html


For further information, contact Hannah.vonAhlefeld@oecd.org or GeoHazards International http://www.geohaz.org/.