From 1970 to 2012, the toll of earthquakes in South America was 77 000 lives, 15 million people affected and economic losses of about USD 37 billion. In the light of these figures, the seismic threat seems self-evident, but no one in the region will take action unless they are convinced they are at risk. Raising awareness of that risk was the focus of this Swiss Re Foundation-supported project.
In addition to being exposed to high levels of seismic hazard, South American countries are particularly vulnerable to it physically and socioeconomically. Governments’ and communities’ capacity for risk management is also limited. This combination of factors creates lethal disasters with long-lasting consequences. Earthquakes affect not only the survival, dignity and livelihoods of people in the region, but also hard-earned regional development gains.
The Global Earthquake Model (GEM) develops and deploys tools and resources for earthquake risk assessment worldwide using common standards, data sets and tools. Its scientific framework combines assessment of seismic hazard with evaluation of the physical and socioeconomic vulnerability of communities in order to estimate direct and indirect impacts as well as risk indicators.
In this project, many organisations and individual experts, professionals and practitioners collaborated to develop uniform global databases, methodologies, tools and open-source software. By its conclusion, the countries of South America had access to data, models and estimates of seismic risk developed and calculated using international standards by renowned experts within the region.
This project joined several other regional initiatives already included in GEM, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Seismic Hazard Harmonization project, the Earthquake Model of the Middle East project and the Earthquake Model of Central Asia project. Because earthquakes do not respect political boundaries, scientists and practitioners need to collaborate across regions to provide robust risk assessments for each country and develop a common model for seismic risk.