Friday, March 05, 2010

Chile :After the earthquake , the painful recovery

Just a couple of weeks ago, Chileans were next to finish their vacation season. A lot of them, were getting ready to go back home with personal bags full of nice memories, after enjoying their free time .From the political point of view, the expectation were running high with the new incoming Center right Government, which was also getting in shape to cope with key challenges mainly about the economy performance . All of that, suddenly changed the Sunday February 28th at 3.34 am in the morning , because a strong earthquake(8.8 in the Richter scale)left the country upside down.
From then on, a lot of questions and considerations about the emergency management model capabilities, have been in the public discussion and analysis. Besides, the economy recovery (GDP grow 4,3% in January),from the last year global financial recession currently under way , will be delayed for some time .
Let looks each of these issues:
a.- The emergency management model. The Katrina disaster, showed clearly that it is hard to fully anticipate the magnitude of these nature disarray. So ,it was in Chile. Years of preparations, plans and trails were useless when it finally happened the furious awake of the nature. A different matter deals with the quality of the plans, its effectiveness, the level of decentralization, and the quality of contingency decision. Thus, override it by the unexpected, the emergency model did not have sufficient instruments to keep itself on. The result were, delays to make critical decisions and, lives which might have been saved, losses which might have been avoided, and desperation of those in need , which might have been mitigated . Anyone might agree with the difficulty to predict the unpredictable. However, the problem lies on the ability to design effective plans , in a country widely known because of these natural disasters, and severe past experience (1939.,1960,1985,2007), more so in a country which is pride of itself because of its economic achievement based on good public policies at all levels . Therefore ,it is the time to make a deep reform to the State, the responsible of last resort in the whole emergency machinery. Those of us who have been calling about it, were right to stress the necessity to undertake such a reform in the new Government.
b.-The recovery process. Early estimation indicates the magnitude of losses at a range of 10% up to 20% of GDP (roughly Chilean GDP is at USS150 bn).How long it will take to get all the economic infrastructure back to normal, will be key to improve the recovery speed. Some preliminary data suggest that such process, will last at least one (1) year, and up to a maximum of four (4) years. Thus ,in the optimistic scenario, GDP recovery pace will, be negatively affected throughout this year up to the month of June. It is expected that during the second half of this year, the impact of higher public spending will be in place allowing to finish GDP grow for 2010, at around 5 to 6%.The more probable scenario though ,deals with a slower process of normalization, (The same centralized model applied to a different situation),a deeper negative impact on GDP grow and higher inflation. In short, probably a couple of years with GDP growing below its long run trend. Just for the record, half of the national fishery industry is in the area devastated,100% of the forestry industry is in the same area, the highway networks will be operating at 100% capacity not before 8 months. The new rules for construction industry (heavily questioned for the poor quality of buildings), will delays the process of building construction, and employment data improvement. The damage to the stock of physical capital can not be underestimated concerning its impact on the economy. What it will become important ,is the stock of human capital. Chileans at this hour, must take the best of them no matter whether they are. That is the beginning of the real recovery.