Micheletti, S., & Troncoso, F. (2015). Damnificados de la reconstrucción post-terremoto. Efectos del modelo en el hábitat rural del Maule. Revista INVI, 31(86), 17-58. Como citar este artículo
Victims of post-earthquake reconstruction. Consequences on the rural habitat of Maule

DOI 10.4067/S0718-83582016000100002


Victims of post-earthquake reconstruction. Consequences on the rural habitat of Maule1


Stefano Micheletti2 y Francisco Letelier Troncoso3

2 Chile. President at NPO Surmaule and associated researcher at the Center for Urban-Territorial Studies, Catholic University of Maule; graduated in Forestry and Environmental Sciences at the University of Padua (Italy); diploma in Public Management and Territorial Development; International MSc in Development Cooperation.

3 Chile. Academic at the Catholic University of Maule; Director at the Center for Urban-Territorial Studies; Sociologist, University of Concepcion; MSc in Sociology.


Following the earthquake and tsunami that occurred on February 27, 2010, the reconstruction policy implemented by the Chilean government favored a process led by private actors and offered standard urban-oriented solutions for all affected territories. Rural zones of the Maule Region, however, had to deal with weak local institutions and the lack of economic incentives for private agents to intervene in these highly disperse and thinly populated areas.
This paper reflects on the effects of reconstruction policies on the reality of rural communities and territories. The absence of policy frameworks specifically designed to deal with the rural habitat, which should be understood as both a set of physical features and the result of social, historical and identity-related processes, suggests that post-earthquake programs failed to identify the particular characteristics of the territory. This increased the precariousness of living conditions, the loss of heritage and identity and the intensification of migration to peri-urban areas.


Received: 28-03-2015 | Accepted: 09-09-2015



Five years on since the earthquake and tsunami that occurred on February 27, 2010, it has been observed that the rural sector was the area most affected and ignored during the reconstruction process. The policies adopted put private actors on the center of the production of housing solutions, thus radicalizing the neoliberal, centralist, sectoral and urban nature of the process and intensifying a long-running tendency in Chile.

Choosing such an approach to address a nationwide catastrophe, which included different types of damage and victims, increased the precarious living conditions of those who live (or lived) in rural territories: the victims of the reconstruction process. This phenomenon was particularly evident in the Maule Region, which was severely hit by the earthquake and tsunami. According to Letelier and Boyco4, “76,581 houses were damaged —23,879 destroyed and 52,702 considerably damaged—, which represents 21 percent of total damaged houses. Official figures say that there are approximately 65,000 affected families in Maule. According to the Ministry of Interior, 12 out of 28 critical communes are located in Maule”.

Given the impact of the earthquake on the rural area of this region, there is a need to understand the effects of reconstruction policies on a territory that has been traditionally conceived from an urban perspective. In this sense, there is an interesting reference to the Operational Guidelines for the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which are series of relevant regulations related to the protection of human rights during natural disasters.

One of the objectives of these guidelines is to “ensure that the principles of human rights and protection rules, including the fundamental principle of non-discrimination, are integrated into all response and recovery efforts during the initial phases of disaster events”5. Some of these guidelines are important for the purposes of this paper, especially those related to housing and land rights that establish core topics such as a) suitability of temporary housing (accessibility, affordability, habitability, secure tenure, cultural adequacy, convenience of location and access to primary services such as health and education) and b) the right of all affected groups and people to be consulted, including their participation in the planning and implementation of temporary and permanent housing programs aimed at tenants and owners/occupants.

There is no doubt that the IASC further explores and specifies the concept of the right to housing —recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948— which has been laid out in more than 12 different UN documents. Such a right does not only refer to the access to shelter but to the access to safe housing and a safe community that ensures peaceful and decent living conditions and physical and mental health6.

On the above basis, this paper analyzes how post-earthquake reconstruction policies increased the vulnerability conditions of rural areas in the Maule Region (and central Chile). This research assumes the concept of vulnerability that has been defined by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction as “a set of conditions determined by physical, social, economic or environmental factors or processes that increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards”7.



Firstly, this paper analyzes different housing policies pursued within the rural context. In the second place, it proposes an analysis of the characteristics and relevance of different reconstruction instruments and establishes a series of critical points that, at a qualitative level, may be useful to understand the different progress rates within the rural reconstruction process. Thirdly, this research offers a comparative rural-urban analysis of the impact and progress made during the reconstruction process by showing critical quantitative differences. In order to achieve this, different “urban” and “rural” communes are identified, with the latter having a total population of up to 20,000 inhabitants8 and a rural population in excess of 12 percent9. According to the proposed criteria, 18 urban communes were identified in the Maule Region.

Finally, the analysis of academic literature, maps, press releases and interviews with experts and public actors makes it possible to identify the effects of the reconstruction process on the rural areas of Maule; this research concludes with some final thoughts on the issue.


The Rural Space and Public Policies on Housing

In Chile, the elaboration of policies on rural housing has been generally based on the replication of urban-oriented programs. However, the 1970s saw the emergence of the first attempts to create a rural specificity with the launching of the State housing program in 197210. Such an initiative based the provision of housing for low-income families on two criteria: an urban core and the satisfaction of the needs of the rural sector.

Later on —during the 1980s, at the height of the military dictatorship and as an attempt to halt migration to cities— the creation of the Rural Subsidy enabled the emergence of the first rural villages. Likewise, the Neighborhood Improvement Program was created under the Ministry of Interior in order to provide basic sanitary solutions for low-income families who lived in poor hygiene conditions. These solutions were not to cost more than 110 UF11 and the area intended for the construction of kitchens and bathrooms ranged from 6 to 12 square meters.

The 1990s saw the creation of the Housing Solidarity Fund, which granted housing subsidies equivalent to 280 UF and the Progressive Housing Program, which had some impact on the rural sector. The latter initiative, which aimed at eradicating precarious urban and rural settlements, succeeded in both providing a solution to a quantitative housing deficit and reaching a target population that was not covered by the then-welfare programs. This plan, however, generated an important urbanization process in rural areas12. Over time, the Progressive Housing Program incorporated private actors through the Grant Funds for Solidarity Housing Projects, which consisted in the construction of new progressive housing units in areas that were already developed. Such a modification resulted in a reduced quantitative development due to the difficulty of working on inhabited areas.

Finally, the creation of the Chile Barrio Program in 1996 led to the greatest gains in construction and urban terms. This is because the mechanisms and tools implemented by this initiative did not only focus on the provision of a “shelter and four walls” but on the management of means designed to significantly improve the living conditions of families in different areas (community development, social inclusion, job and skills training, etc.)13

The above housing policies were implemented in the countryside without much control (neither by the State or communities) and there was no awareness of the medium or long term consequences of these initiatives. Misinformation on the part of rural inhabitants about these policies and little inspection of quality can be seen even today, which generates high levels of dissatisfaction about housing solutions. In some cases, the lack of community involvement in the design and implementation of these policies favor the generation of indirect subsidies from the State to private building firms.

At the local level this situation generates some problems for rural municipalities that have no control over the emergence of a considerable number of semi-urban villages and the abnormal growth of their outlying areas. Such an issue is related to the endemic lack of resources and technical capacities, especially in the case of small, rural and isolated municipalities. This being the case, “large rural areas are engaged in self-planning initiatives, reproducing and transferring the continuity of urban inequalities to the rural sphere, thus replicating the problems that fill us with horror when we see polluted and expensive cities with high correction costs”14.

It is clear that there is some heterogeneity underlying the rural sphere, in this sense “housing policies (…) do not provide a special treatment to our peculiar and heterogeneous territory. This is because the private sector carries out the most strategic functions (such as land management) of the housing process in inadequately prepared local governments. The cultural dimension, which is an element of residential quality, is therefore excluded from these policies”15.

The reconstruction process reproduced and intensified the abovementioned weaknesses and failed to include the lessons learned from other experiences. In fact, as Letelier and Boyco16 suggest, the neoliberal model “has not always influenced Chilean reconstruction processes nor has it defined other contemporary cases. In past decades the Chilean State was able to turn reconstruction processes into real opportunities”. It was only after the 1985 earthquake that the State assumed a subsidiary role; such a measure primarily affected rural territories.


General Policy Framework and Available Instruments for Housing Reconstruction in Rural Territories

The Chilean post-earthquake reconstruction process has shown some critical aspects that have been constantly criticized by both victims17 and local authorities. According to Bresciani18 these social conflicts are the result of the lack of clear citizen participation initiatives, a strong and centralized control over the reconstruction process and the lack of political agreement. Some of these critical aspects are listed as follows:

  • There has not been an institutional framework intended exclusively to address this issue as in the case of the successful post-earthquake experience of Armenia, Colombia or past experiences in Chile.
  • Regular programs and mechanisms (such as the Housing Solidarity Fund I and II and the Supreme Decree No. 40) were used despite the exceptional nature of the situation.
  • The allocation of subsidies has been based on the selection of victims according to their socio-economic situation, which is in sharp contrast to the provisions of international law and the UN in terms of adequate housing.
  • Reconstruction figures provided by the Government have been constantly criticized due to a lack of transparency in data management processes. It is possible to say that different sectors have identified a crisis associated with the gap between political initiatives and the effective production of results19.
  • Reconstruction programs have adopted a neoliberal approach, favoring the emergence of a real estate market focused on the replacement of dwellings rather than on the provision of quality solutions for victims and their neighborhoods. In this context neither the market nor the reconstruction process are controlled by the State, which has adopted a subsidiary role.

In rural areas these critical aspects are intensified by three factors: the social and territorial features common to rural zones; the characteristics of housing policies that have been historically associated with these areas; and the characteristics of the reconstruction model that favor the market and reduce the presence of the State. Before further analyzing this rural issue, it is necessary to address the study of available public instruments and their implementation in the territory.

The post-earthquake reconstruction phase began right after the ending of the emergency phase20. The entity in charge of this undertaking was the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the objective was to provide housing solutions for victims and reconstruct their cities, towns and stevedores, maintain the allocation of subsidies and give continuity to the then-ongoing subsidy programs21. In practice, this model was based on the use of available subsidies to concentrate and allow resources. Some of the identified funding mechanisms were related to the provision of extra resources, contributions made by the private sector and other sources, and budgetary reallocation.

In this context, there was an attempt to solve reconstruction issues through three Ministerial housing programs:

  • The Housing Solidarity Fund, which allocates subsidies ranging from 330 to 580 UF to purchase or build dwellings without the need to have a mortgage account; such a benefit considered the following typologies: the purchase of new dwellings, self-help construction in areas that belong to the beneficiary, construction in new lands and collective construction in rural areas.
  • The Housing Subsidy for Middle-Income Groups (Supreme Decree No.40), which allocates subsidies ranging from 200 to 300 UF to build or purchase new or used dwellings in urban or rural zones with optional mortgage funding.
  • The Program on the Protection of Family Heritage, which was intended to provide resources for the restoration of dwellings through the funding of habitability, safety and maintenance measures. Subsidies ranged from 50 to 65 UF.

However, difficulties encountered during the process, especially those related to the slow replacement of dwellings, prompted the government to incorporate new measures and modify the decree-laws that defined the implementation of the above programs. On January, 2011, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development issued a proposal for adjustment of housing policies due to the “targeting problems of current instruments, which divert resources away from families who really need to be assisted”, assuming that “the current mechanism for the qualification and selection of projects has enabled the development of a considerable number of low-quality developments”22. This New Housing Policy, which was based on the then new Supreme Decree No. 1 of 2011 and the Supreme Decree No. 49 of 2011, replaced the abovementioned programs in order to improve the targeting of resources, thus simplifying and enhancing the array of possibilities for the allocation of subsidies.

Likewise, three different measures were added to the already existent initiatives related to the allocation of subsidies in rural areas:

  1. The Assisted Self-Help Construction, which, through technical assistance provided by the Housing and Urban Development Service, enabled families who owned a plot of land to build their dwellings; beneficiaries received a subsidy of 380 UF (300 UF for materials and 80 UF for manpower) and technical assistance equivalent to 60 UF;
  2. The Portable Subsidy, which supported victims through the allocation of subsidies to fund the replacement of damaged dwellings or fund the purchase of a new dwelling; beneficiaries received a subsidy ranging from 100 to 350 UF depending on the price of the new housing units, which could not cost more than 2000 UF;
  3. The Ministry of National Assets deepened the implementation of the Express Regularization Program intended to regularize legal tenure documents.

These initiatives had mixed results in rural areas (table 1).


Table 1. Analysis of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Measures in Rural Areas.




Self-help rehabilitation

Provision of materials

Victims whose dwellings received repairable damage

This subsidy aimed at funding the rehabilitation of damaged dwellings by providing the materials and the technical assistance and supervision of a Provider of Technical Assistance appointed by the Housing and Urban Development Service, which was the entity in charge of overseeing the proper implementation of tasks. Beneficiaries were not required to have a savings account.

Beneficiaries received a card to purchase materials and tools in hardware stores authorized by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. This generated difficulties to find better prices since only a small number of retail chains were authorized to sell these products. There were some problems in rural areas due to the need to transport purchased materials; this was a fact that increased the overall cost of the project.

On the other hand the benefit provided by authorities (62UF) was not enough to cover the damage to foundations, walls, partitions, ceilings, roofs after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake.

Rehabilitation through PTA23or ASREM24

Victims whose dwellings received repairable damage

In this case the benefit was intended to fund the rehabilitation of damaged dwellings by granting a subsidy of 55 - 65UF (depending on the affected commune) for the repair of foundations, walls, partitions, ceilings, roofs, etc. This benefit was not enough considering the damage caused by the earthquake.

On the other hand, the highest subsidies were distributed in remote areas that were not affected by the earthquake. Such a benefit did not consider the isolated location of rural dwellings or the damage suffered by structures.

Subsidy for construction in lands owned by their inhabitants

Families owning dwellings declared as unsuitable for habitation

Apart from the reconstruction of dwellings, these subsidies covered demolition and debris removal expenses, the rehabilitation of basic services and soil improvement and retaining works. In the case of rural areas, this reconstruction measure had some problems associated with the lack of interest on the part of the SREA and real estate firms to build developments in isolated and dispersed territories. As a result some projects never materialized or were abandoned while still in progress.

Subsidy for construction of prefabricated dwellings

Families owning dwellings declared as unsuitable for habitation

The building of prefabricated dwellings considerably reduced construction timelines. However, while complying with quality standards, the materials used to build these housing units (polystyrene, PVC, sterling board, etc.) were unfamiliar to rural people as they were used to live in wooden or adobe dwellings. Therefore, these units lacked cultural and ecologic relevance since they did not consider the particular living and production costumes common to rural areas.

On the other hand, the transport of materials to rural sectors increased the cost of projects and, on many occasions, private contractors had no interest in transporting little amount of modules to these areas. Likewise, these prefabricated dwellings should be authorized by the Housing and Urban Development Service or the Technical Division at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

Subsidy for assisted self-help construction

Extraordinary measure implemented in 2011 in order to support victims that owned plots of land; this solution was aimed at rural sectors

This benefit granted a subsidy of 380UF for individuals who wanted to build a dwelling in their own plots of land; this benefit also included technical assistance provided by the Housing and Urban Development Service. Beneficiaries were given a card to purchase construction materials in hardware stores authorized by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. Applicants were not required to have a savings account.

This subsidy generated solutions for remote areas that were difficult to access for building firms and provided solutions in unregulated lands.

This measure constitutes a step forward in relation to the valuation of the work carried out by victims despite the fact that these are prefabricated dwellings that lack cultural and ecologic relevance.

Portable subsidy

Extraordinary measure implemented in 2011 in order to support victims that owned plots of land

This benefit can be used either to build a new dwelling in the area owned by victims or purchase a new dwelling in other place. Considering that the real estate market for victims is focused on peri-urban areas it is possible to say, then, that this measure increases rural-urban migration.

Subsidy for the purchase of dwellings

Tenant families whose dwelling was declared as damaged beyond repair

As in the previous case, since the real estate market is exclusively focused on urban zones, recipients of this benefit are forced to migrate to the peri-urban areas of towns and intermediate cities and live in dwellings with low housing and urban standards.

Subsidy for construction in new sites

Tenant families whose dwelling was declared as damaged beyond repair

This subsidy focuses on the construction of collective housing projects in new sites and is intended to fund the purchase of land and its further preparation (filling and leveling, contention walls, water impulsion, etc.). Within the context of rural sectors, the implementation of this measure is highly complex due to the lack of enough people to start the project, the lack of developed lands and high construction costs.

Elaborated by the authors according to data retrieved from MINVU25


Consequences and Impact of the Earthquake and Reconstruction Process on the Rural Communes of Maule

Characterization of the Reconstruction Process in Terms of Damage, Victims and Progress

According to official figures the earthquake struck more than 900 rural and coastal communities along the Chilean territory. In the field of infrastructure and public works, apart from roads, bridges and ports, 422 rural potable water systems, 27 stevedores, 6 rainwater collectors, 5 dams and 8 natural riverbanks were affected26. As for rural adobe, 24,538 housing units were destroyed, 19,783 dwellings suffered major damage and 22,052 received minor damage, thus totaling 66,373 damaged dwellings27.

However, according to the “Diagnostic of the State of Reconstruction — Earthquake and Tsunami, February 27, 2010” issued by the Presidential Delegation for the Reconstruction on June, 2014: “there has been no official data on the number of rural dwellers affected or a record of damage or losses in isolated rural communities”28. It has also been impossible to find a communal–oriented disaggregation of data on urban and rural sectors.

For the purposes of conducting a quantitative analysis, and according to the approach adopted by this research, the following communes have been regarded as part of the rural space (table 2).


Table 2. Rural Communes Located in the Maule Region.

Rural communes studied in the Maule Region






Sagrada Familia



San Rafael






Villa Alegre


Río Claro

Yerbas Buenas

Elaborated by the authors


Since the information obtained during the 2012 census is currently unavailable29, data on population and rural-related information was collected from the population projection for 2012 elaborated by the National Statistics Office, which was based on the 2002 census. Data related to victims, damaged dwellings and progress in the provision of housing was retrieved from the website of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development30 (www.minvu.cl) and through a request for information enshrined in the Transparency Law. Such a request was satisfied on March, 2012, by the team in charge of the “Construction of Territorial Citizenship in Chile” project31; an initiative funded by the European Union and composed of different local social organizations, including the NPO Surmaule.


Level of Damage

Being officially recognized as a victim represented the first major obstacle for those affected. It is possible to think that distance, dispersion and the difficulty in obtaining information —elements common to rural areas— have prevented an unknown number of rural victims from being recognized as such and receive State support. According to Fabian Perez, Regional Coordinator of the Presidential Delegation for the Reconstruction32, this is a phenomenon “that has affected our coastal and valley regions and the communes located in the pre-Andean area”.

Considering the number of registered earthquake victims as of September, 2010 (including eligible and non-eligible subsidy recipients), it is clear that —in absolute terms— the number of registered victims from urban communes is larger than the number of victims from rural areas. However, the percentage analysis of the number of victims in terms of population reveals that the impact of the earthquake on rural communes (10.3 percent) doubled the damage suffered by urban communes (5.3 percent).

Once registered as a victim, the second obstacle faced by those affected was related to the subsidy eligibility criteria proposed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning33, which determined the number of candidates eligible for support from reconstruction programs such as the Housing Solidarity Fund, the Program on the Protection of Family Heritage and the Housing Subsidy for Middle-Income Groups (Supreme Decree No. 40).

Therefore, it is worth analyzing the information regarding the number of eligible victims (as of 201134) through a comparison with the total number of registered victims. This would allow us to observe how the percentage of eligible victims in terms of the total number of registered victims is considerably lower in rural communes (69.4 percent) than in urban communes (78.8 percent).

Different hypotheses such as those related to the features common to disperse and isolated areas can explain the above phenomenon. According to Perez, successions and informal property represented a significant difficulty during this phase: “another complicated issue was related to the fact of regularizing their lands in order to provide and build new houses”. On the other hand it was suggested that poor access to information played a key role in this matter since “people make good decisions if they are properly informed and such a task is the responsibility of public entities”; however, public officials “were overloaded with duties and this opportunity did not exist”.

A second level of analysis refers to the categorization of damage to dwellings which, according to data provided by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, was divided into repairable and non-repairable (table 3).


Table 3. Categorization of Damage to Dwellings According to Rural and Urban Communes

Urban communes

Rural communes

Families with non-repairable houses

Families with repairable houses

Families with non-repairable houses

Families with repairable houses









Elaborated by the authors according to data retrieved from MINVU


Table 4. Urban and Rural Victims According to Housing Tenure

Victims in urban communes

Victims in rural communes


Freeloader or tenant



Freeloader or tenant












Elaborated by the authors according to data retrieved from MINVU


Table 5. Progress Made During the Reconstruction Process.


Urban communes

Rural communes

Delivered dwellings

Total number of dwellings


Delivered dwellings

Total number of dwellings


Sep 2013







Feb 2014







Jun 2014







Elaborated by the authors according to data retrieved from MINVU


In this case it is also possible to observe that the largest portion of damaged dwellings was located in urban communes; however, the comparison between the number of families with non-repairable houses and the total number of affected families reveals that the rural dimension was the area most affected by this event (table 4). Such a difference may be explained by the presence of large numbers of adobe houses.

The above table shows that the lowest portion of homeowners is concentrated in rural communes; this may be due to low tenure regularization, which is a characteristic common to rural areas (especially in the case of successions). Such a situation may be translated into the eviction of victims from their original places of residence.

As for reconstruction, quarterly data provided by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development allows us to measure the progress made in this regard according to the number of delivered dwellings, under-construction dwellings or future dwellings (table 5). For the purposes of this analysis, the number of delivered dwellings is compared with the number of total dwellings included over three different periods of time.

The most recent report, which was issued on November, 201435, confirms the above tendency since in urban and rural communes the relationship rate between the number of completed dwellings and active subsidies is 93 and 90 percent, respectively.

To conclude this phase of quantitative analysis it is safe to say that, in relative terms, rural communes were the areas most affected by this event when compared to urban communes and the percentage of victims eligible for subsidies is smaller than the total number of registered victims. Likewise, rural areas have the highest rates of non-repairable dwellings and victims who do not own a property, this being a situation that increases the vulnerability of this sector.


Consequences of the Reconstruction Process on Rural Sectors

Inequality of access to records

In general terms the reconstruction process has involved serious problems in the development of a record of damage and victims; in fact, three different instruments were used to measure and identify those affected by the earthquake: the Unique Emergency Family Survey (UEFS), the Record of Victims and the Reconstruction Record.

According to the Presidential Delegation for the Reconstruction36 “it is also probable that most vulnerable victims may have never been registered in records since their vulnerability condition prevents them from being included in welfare services”. Strictly speaking, “evidence shows that there is still no data regarding the official number of rural victims or a registry of damage or losses in rural areas”.


Inequality of access to emergency housing units and Rehabilitation or Reconstruction

According to the Red Cross and the University of Concepcion37, some rural families were excluded from the access to emergency housing units and rehabilitation or reconstruction subsidies.

As for the poor capacity for response within the context of the demand for reconstruction or reparation subsidies, exclusion was associated with two conditions: “on the one part, families that have not received housing subsidies and, on the other hand, families that have been unable to use already allocated housing subsidies”38. In this case the Red Cross and the University of Concepcion identified the following factors:

  • institutional management, bureaucracy, poor institutional capacities, lack of coordination and lack of fieldwork
  • problems related to the regularization of land and cultural characteristics of rural families
  • once again, isolation and problems in the access to information


Inadequate access to solution markets

The lack of interest of building firms to work in rural areas on plots owned by local people slowed down the pace of the reconstruction process. One of the clearest examples of this issue was the abandonment of rural projects that were still in progress; this situation has been denounced by people from the Maule Region. Some of the most affected communes are San Clemente39 —where 200 families had been affected by the abandonment of projects as of March, 2013—, Villa Prat40 —100 families affected— and San Rafael.41

According to “Rural Reconstruction under Judgment”, a report broadcast by Television Nacional de Chile – Red Maule on March, 201342, 980 out of 12,000 subsidies for reconstruction of dwellings in lands owned by local people were abandoned by contractors. This is explained by the fact that large building firms delegated responsibilities to some of the 400 small local contractors that do not have enough resources to undertake reconstruction tasks in rural areas, the result being the abandonment of projects. Victims are left with unfinished dwellings for months.

Despite the fact that the Housing and Urban Development Service is not responsible for the elaboration of a register, information provided by this entity revealed that, as of October 17, 201343, “380 contracts were unilaterally terminated due to a breach of agreement on the part of building firms”44.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that according to a report issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development on November, 2014, a large number of finished projects have not been registered by the respective Departments of Municipal Works: 5,791 in the case of rural communes and 7,014 in the case of urban communes. The latter one demonstrates the significant —and proportional— vulnerability of rural communities.


The failure of the assisted self-help construction subsidy

The subsidy for self-help construction was implemented in 2011 as an extraordinary measure intended to specifically address the rural issue; such an initiative had a limited impact. In theoretical terms, this measure focused on the areas that were difficult to access for construction firms and enabled victims who owned plots of land to build dwellings on their own with technical assistance provided by the Housing and Urban Development Service. This initiative also operated in unregulated lands.

However, as of September, 2013, and considering the three regions most affected by the earthquake (O’Higgins, Maule and Bio Bio), only 924 subsidies for self-help construction had been allocated. This figure included other subsidies unrelated to reconstruction programs. Likewise, only 381 out of the 924 subsidies had successfully been implemented45.

Apart from rehabilitation programs, there were 12,000 reconstruction subsidies intended to be exclusively allocated in the rural areas of Maule. Of this number, only 363 subsidies corresponded to assisted self-help construction initiatives. Then, 72 victims relinquished or moved to other programs —thus indicating possible issues at some implementation phase throughout the project, especially during the assistance phase—, which reduces the number of beneficiaries to 288 (representing 2.4 percent of total subsidies). As of November, 2013, a total of 187 projects had been completed in the Maule Region: there is no doubt about the poor impact of this initiative, especially when considering that this measure was intended to “solve” the issues of rural areas.


Lack of relevance within the context of housing solutions for rural areas

Such a lack of relevance emerged due to the recurring thought that urban social units were suitable for rural families.

The above does not only refer to the composition and dimensions of dwellings but also to their structure as a whole (getting accustomed to have close neighbors) and the availability of land to carry out rural activities such as the cultivation of family vegetable gardens, the breeding of small animals, etc.

Therefore, this lack of relevance is represented by elements such as:

  • relocation
  • reduction in the dimension of dwellings
  • composition of dwellings
  • prevalence of urban-oriented ideas about neighborhoods or villages
  • prevalence of the concept that refers to the concept of dwelling as a nuclear family, and
  • transformation of the relationship between housing and land.

In this sense, while the housing provided by policies can be seen as an improvement regarding harsh living conditions (thermal and sound insulation, service availability, etc.), some soft and socio-cultural conditions are affected46.


Rural-urban migration and loss of assets

One the most evident and complex aspects of this issue is associated with the increase in “rural-periphery” migration, which resulted from the pressure exerted by the reconstruction model to concentrate the demand for housing in villages or peripheral areas of cities and neighboring towns. Such a tendency, which had already emerged before the earthquake, was intensified by the fact that less than 27 percent of allocated subsidies in rural communes corresponded to the subsidy for the purchase of dwellings.

In the case of the Maule Region, 38 percent of the housing replacement subsidies allocated in the 18 rural communes involved the relocation of families (4,902 cases); there are also 46 new housing development projects, each one at different levels of progress47.

On the other hand, according to an analysis conducted by the Center for Urban-Territorial Studies (CUTS) which focused on 12 new housing developments built in Talca48 after the earthquake (information issued by SERVIU with data provided by CEUT and Surmaule), it is possible to observe that a third of dwellers come from rural communes located around Talca. Table 6 shows the communes of origin of dwellers.

It is worth pointing out that the loss of assets does not only refer to heritage but also to location, which allowed victims to live near their workplaces and support networks, both at family and friends levels. Housing, on the other hand, is a heritage that performs different functions such as inhabitation, socialization and productive activities.


Table 6. Communes of Origin of Dwellers Included in Post-Earthquake CNS Programs.


Dwellers (Family units)









San Clemente




San Rafael




San Javier












Sagrada Familia








Yerbas Buenas


Elaborated by the authors.



Post-earthquake housing policies operated through the existing institutional system and funded the replacement of dwellings, ignoring the complexity underlying the reconstruction of habitat, understood as heritage with its own technologies, forms and customs.

Rural sectors of the Maule Region were not only affected by this natural catastrophe, but also by a series of neoliberal public policies that triggered the radicalization of the centralist, sectoral and urban nature of the reconstruction process. In this context there was a violation of human rights, defined as essential during natural disasters events by different international organizations (IASC, UN, etc.). These rights are related to the accessibility, affordability, habitability, cultural adequacy and convenience of location criteria that should be met by the dwellings provided by the State, including the right of the civil society to participate in this process.

The infringement of the above rights increased the vulnerability of rural habitats and, unlike in the case of urban zones, the communes located in these areas had to face a complex reconstruction process that involved obvious discrimination in terms of the provision of emergency dwellings and allocation of subsidies. The consequences of such events were associated with two substantial aspects: loss of identity and heritage, and the intensification of rural-urban migration.

The difficulty to attract demand and the dispersion, access and communication issues common to rural areas turned the reconstruction of these zones into an unattractive business for private actors. Likewise, a lack of relevance for ecology and identity emerged in the cases where rural victims were assisted by the market since the dwellings provided by the State had almost no relationship with the traditional purposes and dimensions of rural housing.

Considering that the State delegated the provision of housing solutions to the real estate market, the alternatives to affected rural families were restricted to the provision of prefabricated dwellings and self-help construction (a measure that was based on standard models which had a limited impact). The modification of the housing typology had a negative effect on the identity and traditional aspect of different towns since this is a central element of rural life, which is a space where culture and function converge.

On the other hand, while it has been historically seen as a search for opportunities, the rural-urban migration process has been intensified by construction firms, who aim at producing economies of scale through either the concentration of dwellings in semi-rural villages or the construction of large housing developments in intermediate cities such as Talca or Curico.

Post-earthquake rural-urban migration, which is a phenomenon that has been clearly observed in the case of the Construction in New Sites (CNS) program, does not only imply the depopulation of country areas and the subsequent modification in the life styles of newly arrived families but also refers to the increased precariousness of those who stay in the rural sphere. Displacements disrupt the family and social networks that sustained large share of daily life.

The act of inhabiting rural areas, which is regarded as having heritage value with its own technologies, forms and customs49, was clearly sacrificed during the reconstruction process in order to accelerate the replacement of dwellings and increase profits from the provision of housing units. Likewise, the work capacity of rural people as well their knowledge about traditional construction techniques and the sense of reciprocity that generates cooperation and mutual assistance were all lost.

The effects described throughout this paper reveal that the violation of certain rights caused by reconstruction policies have increased the precarious conditions of rural areas located in the Maule Region. In this sense, there is a need to develop tailored policies intended to mitigate these problems and set the guidelines for future interventions focused on relevant social and cultural issues. The new Program of Rural Habitability, which is currently being developed by the Chilean government in order to improve the habitability conditions of rural and middle-income families who live in rural locations of up to 2,000 inhabitants, will confirm if the post-earthquake process has integrated some learning experiences into these fields.

Above all, there is an urgent need to develop a rural-oriented project intended to provide material and symbolic solutions for the establishment of dwellers and the repopulation of these areas.



1 This paper is the result of post-earthquake intervention processes developed by the NPO Surmaule over the 2010-2015 period in the Maule Region and the research initiatives conducted by the authors at the Center for Urban-Territorial Studies, Catholic University of Maule.

4 Letelier and Boyco, 2011, p. 28.

5 IASC, 2011, p. 8.

6 ¿Qué es derecho a la vivienda?, no date.

7 Terminología (…), 2004.

8 This is four times the official number of inhabitants established by National Statistics Office, which is 5,000, according to the definition of intermediate city described by Berdegue and the Human Settlement Program developed by the International Institute of Environment and Development – IIED.

9 Limit value for the identification of urban communes according to Berdegue, Jara, Moreno, Sanclemente and Schejtman, 2010.

10 Micheletti, 2011, p. 19.

11 The UF (Unidad de Fomento) is a unit of account that is adjusted according to inflation rates. Such a unit has been used in Chile since 1967 and is currently valued at 25,000 CLP, about 42 USD.

12 Morellato, 2012, p. 29.

13 MINURVI, 2006, p. 1.

14 Tapia, 2006, p. 1.

15 Ibid.

16 Letelier and Boyco, 2011, p. 75.

17 It is worth mentioning the role played by the NMFR —National Movement for Fair Reconstruction— at national level. This initiative has been supported by organizations such as the Reconstruction Observatory of the University of Chile and the NPO Surmaule, among others.

18 La reconstrucción reprobada (…), 2011

19 Valenzuela, 2011, p. 32.

20 This phase was led by the Ministry of Interior and MIDEPLAN, along with municipalities and public and private organizations. The objective of this stage was to provide provisory shelter for affected families.

21 Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2010, p. 5.

22 Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2011.

23 Provider of Technical Assistance (in Spanish Prestador de Servicios de Asistencia Técnica).

24 Agency for Social Real Estate Management (in Spanish Entidad de Gestión Inmobiliaria Social).

25 Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2010.

26 Gobierno de Chile, 2010.

27 Ministerio Secretaría General de la Presidencia, 2011, p. 1.

28 Delegación Presidencial para la Reconstrucción, 2014, p. 45.

29 According to a public declaration available at the website of this agency, the “National Statistics Office states that, on March 27, 2014, the access to information regarding the 2012 Population and Housing Census has been disabled. Such information was available at www.ine.cl and www.censo.cl”.

30 Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2013-2014, p. 1.

31 It is worth pointing out that, apart from the poor access to information about the reconstruction process, there were some incongruences regarding the processing of information. This suggests that the proposed analysis should not be understood as a depiction of reality but as a means to identify general tendencies.

32 Appointed during the Bachelet administration, in office since March 11, 2014.

33 Being declared as victim and having such a condition registered at the local municipality; being over 18 years of age; applicants or spouses should not be owners of other dwellings or have a valid subsidy certificate; having a Social Protection Card; and certify the availability of land in the event of building a dwelling in the site owned by beneficiaries. (Source: Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, no date).

34 This is a definitive figure that has not been modified.

35 No data was added to this Table since the modifications made to the nomenclature on the report issued on November, 2014 (completed dwellings/delivered dwellings).

36 Delegación Presidencial para la Reconstrucción, 2014, p. 28.

37 Rojas, Moreno and Valenzuela, 2011, p. 33.

38 Ibid.

39 San Clemente (…), 2013.

40 http://www.redmaule.com/denuncian-abandono-de-obras-en-reconstruccion-de-zonas-rurales-del-maule/.

41 Crónica (…), 2013.

42 bid.

43 SERVIU Región del Maule, 2013.

44 These terminations of contract are detailed as follows: Cauquenes, 65 dwellings; Chanco, 29; Colbun, 3; Curepto, 16; Licanten, 2; Linares, 5; Longavi, 19; Maule, 7; Parral, 13; Pelarco, 7; Pelluhue, 6; Retiro, 41; Rio Claro, 33; Sagrada Familia, 26; San Clemente, 54; San Javier, 11; San Rafael, 33; Talca, 12; and Villa Alegre, 1.

45 Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2013.

46 Observatorio de Ruralidad, 2014, p. 3.

47 SERVIU Región del Maule, 2014.

48 Analysis about the location of dwellers of post-earthquake social housing in Talca (Altos del Estero I, II and III; Comite de Adelanto Monseñor Manuel Larrain; Don Andres III; Comite Social Dionisio Astaburuaga; Nuevo Amanecer Los Maitenes; Villa el Parque II and III, Don Sebastian II de Colin; Don Sebastian I; Villa Jardin del Norte; and Villa del Prado.

49 Piga, 2011, p. 147.



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