noviembre 01, 2010

Notes from an Earthquake

An earthquake in Chile is never the first nor the last one, therefore we must know how to coexist with this.

It is known that in the nature the risks do not exist. This is why blaming the rivers, volcanos or the tectonic plates for our misfortunes is absurd.

What we call risks is simply the result of our interaction with nature, the one that for different reasons - there will always be reasons- takes us to voluntarily place ourselves in risky situations. Moreover, it would seem that our determined business of conquering nature is focused to increase the potential of risks.

If we cannot control nature nor even predict it, at least we remained calm by the enormous efforts that we have made throughout millenniums to control and predict the riskiest of the expressions of nature: the human nature. But it seems we failed there too.

The worse thing than we have seen in the after hours to the earthquake, which devastated great part of the central zone of our country, is what we could not control and nor come close to predict. Looting and robberies are product of the risk of the interaction between men and women of a society broken by adversity. An adversity that is not in the telluric movement, but in another place, previous, latent like a risk, that detonates the conflict before any “opportunity” - an economist would say.

That is a long debate - hopefully already established - among those who must urgently take care of this situation.

From our part, it was urgent from the first moment to make a call to the authorities so that they do not take rushed decisions that operate from the same mechanics as those of the sacking against the effects of the conducts of risk supposedly “concentrated” in our heritage.

What the culture of the conservation has verified, for more than one hundred years, is that to prevent is more important than to cure. And that, to cure is not a synonym of amputate, mutilate and much less to give an attended death to bodies – as it was a hundred years ago-.

To decide rashly about the demolition of a preexisting structure or to demonize the nature of a material - the adobe, always the adobe - is today the common place of those who decide hastily on the future of our heritage.

The cornices and the roofing tiles are not the cause of the danger, that is to reduce mechanically the experience of their fall to mitigate a non-assumed responsibility on the pain of others. The human lives will always be more important, we are clear about it, but the doubt remains of why were those same lives of not interest before the earthquake. We insist that the danger is installed in another place, always latent and on which we would have to take advantage of the experience this tragedy once and for all to install in our country an integrated system of continuous heritage conservation that administers obsolescence as a permanent process and that takes advantage of the knowledge, the technology and the technicians we count on to do it, only the political will lacks to carry this out.

The sensible replicas of the earthquake will follow for months. We do not know if the heritage buildings that for 25 years accused the damages of the previous earthquake of 1985 will still be there tomorrow. But without a doubt the plate of Nazca will not disappear after this earthquake, it was there before and will be there after us. It will depend on us to minimize our risk conducts not to try vainly to mitigate its effects in an unnecessary heritage euthanasia.

It is in that context that ICOMOS Chile has proposed short term actions related to three convergent subjects:

a) Timely information to the local authorities to mitigate the rash activities against the effects of the earthquake in the areas of greater vernacular heritage density, which means basically not to confuse debris with ruins, since debris are unimportant but not the latter, and that the activities are oriented to disarm the ruins that threaten to collapse to consolidate their state and not to demolish them to turn them into remains which is just like throwing away our heritage.

b) To support a network of specialized diagnoses missions (in fact ICOMOS Chile has participated in several through their members experts in Historical Structures and Heritage constructed on Land), and the third,

c) To efficiently coordinate one " Invierno"(Winter) Operation; in order to prevent the saturation of humidity in the ruins and monuments with less damage and whose construction material contains ground elements since its greatest agent of deterioration is water. All the previous can - and it should - be done on the basis of the voluntary work of specialists, the participation of the affected communities and the responsible activities for the local and central authorities.

Finally among the medium of and long term actions we can highlight:

a) To install a heritage culture of the prevention in front of crises scenes (that are cyclical with respect to earthquakes), which means to introduce in the processes the formal and informal education the reference topics

b) Sector institutionalism that not only it coordinates and evaluates but also executes with a rank of budgetary and normative autonomy that makes it relevant in the context of the national economic reconstruction, where the heritage is recognized as one of the bases of the development

c) Regulation of the criteria of intervention in the constructed heritage, through its update in synchrony with the state of the international debate, which is how ICOMOS has been elaborating for decades with our Scientific Committees, and their binding sanction through the different norms that superimpose themselves in the regulation of the territory, weather sectorial or non-sectorial in relation to the heritage.

Jose de Nordenflycht President ICOMOS Chile

Text conference of the ICOMOS Canada 2010 Annual Symposium, Ottawa, Central Experimental Farm, 22 october 2010.

Photo: Talca damage, by Marcela Hurtado.

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