Prevention against Earthquakes in Peru: remembering Pisco.

Image source:  Agencia Andina. Image source: Agencia Andina.

Beyond the duty of the authorities, it is urgent that the population itself is organized and that it itself is aware of and faces its situation of poverty.

Earthquake prevention in Peru.

Remembering the Pisco earthquake 16 years ago

By Antonio Peña Jumpa*

August 21, 2023.-"Earthquakes cannot be predicted, but their effects can be prevented”. This is a statement that stems from learning from hundreds of experiences in earthquake-prone countries around the world. But what is earthquake prevention and how can we apply it in countries like Peru?

Preventing the effects of earthquakes consists, in simple terms, of avoiding the causes that generate their damage or disaster situation. This leads us to directly relate the concept of earthquake to that of disaster. Although earthquakes are not the only events that produce disasters, they are the events of greatest risk in countries such as Peru.

An earthquake can destroy cities in seconds. This was the case of the earthquake of 15 August 2007, 16 years ago, which had as its epicentre the province of Pisco, in the Ica region of Peru. With a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale (at local moment), the Pisco earthquake destroyed in approximately 210 seconds a group of cities near its epicentre, including Pisco, Chincha, Ica and Cañete, and parts of Huaytará, Castrovirreyna and Yauyos. The damage can be seen in the destruction of homes, but above all in the loss of hundreds of lives and thousands of injured.

Based on the Pisco experience, we can outline how to apply earthquake prevention in countries such as Peru. Let us highlight three main causes that reproduced the disaster situation experienced after the Pisco earthquake, and from there outline three ways of prevention. These causes are related to the simple actions of the authorities and the population, which can certainly be overcome.



1. The disorganisation of public administration in the earthquake-affected provinces, regions and the central government.

Neither the provinces of Pisco, Chincha, Ica, Cañete, Huaytará, Castrovirreyna or Yauyos, nor the regional governments of Ica, Huancavelica or Lima, nor the Peruvian central government, were prepared to control or mitigate the effects of an earthquake of the magnitude of 15 August 2007.

The public administration in these provinces, regions and central government was disorganised and paralysed after the earthquake. The public administration had not complied with the minimum requirements to prevent the construction of informal housing, to update property rights and to guarantee the security of the population during and after the earthquake (e.g. law enforcement, health service and food distribution).

Faced with this fact or experience, the task of prevention is simply to organise, in the face of earthquakes, the administration of local governments, regional governments and the central or national government. This organisation, in turn, consists of structurally and functionally organising each office and official in their jurisdiction, together with their population, to deal with the disaster situation.

2. Lack of understanding of the Earthquake and Disaster phenomena by the authorities, the public administration and the population.

After the Pisco earthquake, it became clear that the authorities in the provinces, the regions and the central government were not only unprepared, but had no interest in understanding what an earthquake and a disaster situation means.  They were not aware of the magnitude and nature of these phenomena, nor did they have plans for disaster risk management.

The same path was followed by the local, regional and national population of the country. If the authorities were not aware of the problem, the population could not be expected to know about it.

The worst thing that happened is that the authorities acted politically, under media publicity and political clientelism.

The worst thing that happened is that the authorities acted politically, under media publicity and political clientelism. This led to theft and corruption in the local, regional and national public administration. Taking advantage of the disaster situation and the state of emergency, public works were awarded directly (without tendering) to companies that could pay the bribes demanded by the authorities.

In the face of this fact or experience, it is incumbent on the authorities, as an example, to learn about the nature of earthquakes and their disaster effects. This means having the humility to listen and understand the information or knowledge that is transmitted from people who know more. With this understanding, authorities can guide their public administration and provide guidance to the population. It will then be easier to develop prevention plans and ongoing training. With this preparation, the population is the only one who can control corruption if it occurs.

3. The vulnerability of local society.

With the earthquake in Pisco, it became clear that the greatest misfortune was to appreciate the weakness of the population. In the days following the earthquake, the people of Pisco wandered the streets in shock, without food and without security. All forms of social and economic organisation were lost, and anyone could enter anyone else's house for food or to take what goods remained. The survival instinct took over.

The previous situation of poverty in the same population deepened this situation of vulnerability after the earthquake.

Faced with this fact or experience, it is up to society to prepare itself. Beyond the duty of the authorities, it is urgent that the population itself is organised, and that it is aware of and confronts its own situation of poverty. It is not enough to have one leader (who can easily be affected by the earthquake), but hundreds of leaders per block, neighbourhood or zone. This is the best guarantee to avoid disasters and to act immediately in reconstruction, without corruption.

Lima, 15 and 19 August 2023.


*Antonio Peña Jumpa is Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and lecturer at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Lawyer, Master in Social Sciences and PhD. in Laws.

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