Shaken Costa Rica escapes major damage

    U.S. Geological Survey mapped the depth of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that shook Costa Rica Wednesday, Sept. 5. The red circles signify depths of up to 69 kilometers while the green ones are between 69 and 299 kilometers. Photo by: USGS

    The government of Costa Rica has not yet issued an aid appeal following the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit the country’s northwest coast Wednesday (Sept. 5), but thanked the international community for humanitarian aid offers.

    The quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, struck 84 miles west of the capital, San Jose, triggering a tsunami alert  now lifted  for Costa Rica and its neighbors Panama, Nicaragua and Chile. It was the latest quake with a magnitude exceeding 7 to hit the Central American country in two decades. The last was in 1990.

    No major damage has been reported based on authorities’ initial assessments. But classes in affected areas have been suspended and there is concern regarding delivery of basic services, according to a statement released by the National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response or CNE.

    The number of deaths from the temblor is unclear. But Rebeca Madrigal, spokeswoman for CNE, told The Wall Street Journal one woman died from a heart attack.

    The United Nations and several nongovernmental organizations, such as the Costa Rica Red Cross and World Vision, are monitoring the situation. World Vision Communications Manager Heillen Sanchez told Devex in an email the organization is “working together with local leaders to assess the damage and respond as needed.”

    Costa Rica, an upper middle-income country, is exposed to multiple natural hazards, including floods, landslides and earthquakes. Nearly 80 percent of its population lives in high-risk areas, according to the World Bank.

    It is, perhaps, for this reason that Costa Rica has been strengthening its disaster risk management capability for years. In 2010, the government issued a national plan for risk management that, among others, will guide the government in its “allocation of resources, organization and mechanisms of verification and control.”

    CNE officials said the quake’s reduced impact on the country’s infrastructure was due in part to actions taken by the government, including the implementation of a seismic code that, according to the statement, “takes into account the impact of earthquakes in the infrastructure construction.”

    A 2011 World Bank report indicated the country was working on institutional reforms that would help it mainstream disaster risk reduction in various sectors and develop guidelines for municipalities. A national policy on land planning  which will help reduce the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters  was also in the works.

    Disaster management is among the key focus areas of the country’s 2012-2015 partnership strategy with the World Bank as well.

    The last major earthquake to hit Costa Rica was in 2009, when 40 people died, according to USGS. But the country, which had a year earlier received approval of a $65 million International Bank of Reconstruction and Development loan, was able to withdraw funds from the bank’s Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option. The financial facility disburses funds to countries under a state of emergency to help them recover from a natural disaster.

    Ivy Mungcal contributed reporting.

    Find World Bank projects & tenders and NGOs working in Costa Rica. Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day. 

    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.