The Chilean government has declared an emergency and international agencies and NGOs are stepping up their response in the aftermath of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that shook the country early on Saturday 28 February.
The quake has reportedly killed at least 800 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, causing widespread damage to homes, hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure. The Chilean authorities say 2 million people have been affected overall.
This earthquake came just six and a half weeks after one which was less powerful, but far more deadly in terms of its impact, struck Haiti, where intensive aid operations continue.
UNICEF made it clear this morning that its humanitarian commitments in Haiti will not stand in the way of providing help to Chile in areas of expertise that may be required.
"UNICEF will assist all those affected by the earthquake in Chile, especially the children," said a spokesperson for the agency.
Saturday's quake hit at 3:34 am local time off the Chilean coast. The epicentre was 325 km southwest of the capital, Santiago, but just 100 km from Chile's second-largest city, Concepción, which has a population of more than 200,000. A tsunami triggered by the earthquake caused additional damage in some southern coastal towns.
The Government of Chile has declared 'zones of catastrophe' in the affected regions, including Bio-Bio, Maule, Araucania, Valparaiso and Metropolitan Santiago.
Following its initial assessment of needs and damage, the government said today that it would accept some offers of international assistance – particularly aid in the form of field hospitals, temporary bridges and water-purification supplies, as well as damage-assessment experts and search-and-rescue workers.
Meanwhile, Chile's Ministry of Education has suspended the start of the school year by one week. Classes had been scheduled to resume today (1 March) but will now begin on 8 March.
While the number of deaths in Chile is expected to rise, it seems likely to reach only a small fraction of the toll from the 12 January earthquake in Haiti. Even though that quake was much lower in magnitude than the one in Chile, extreme poverty and a far more fragile infrastructure magnified the effects of natural disaster in the Caribbean nation.
The onset of the rainy season in Haiti is currently causing concern about the ability of relief agencies to deliver supplies and services. Nevertheless, UNICEF and its partners in Haiti are moving ahead with an emergency education operation for children affected by the disaster.
Christian Aid's Chile emergency appeal: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/current/chile-earthquake/inde...