Insights and Analysis

From China: Relief for Sichuan Province

May 14, 2008

By Jonathan R. Stromseth

For many of us working in China, the May 12th earthquake was our first experience feeling a building (our office) sway. A couple minutes after realizing what was going on, staff walked down 19 flights of stairs to join hundreds of other office workers outside who slowly learned the details of the powerful earthquake that had hit nearly 1,000 miles away in southwestern Sichuan province. Two other Asia Foundation staff, visiting a project site in central Henan Province, felt larger shocks.

It wasn’t until several hours later, however, that the full scale of the damage and the number of lives lost in the mountainous region of Sichuan province became clear. The rapid response by the government and the blanket coverage of the earthquake in Chinese media reflect increased transparency of both the government and the domestic press, in addition to the inevitable developments that camera phones and satellite communications provide.  Within hours, pictures and video from the earthquake were posted on Tudou, China’s version of  YouTube.

As of this writing, the earthquake has killed at least 15,000, trapped an estimated 26,000, left a yet-to-be-estimated number homeless, with thousands still missing.  China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA), the government agency responsible for disaster relief, is working with other government agencies, NGOs and charity organizations to provide victims with immediate relief. While communications and transport to the most devastated areas remain cut off, the Foundation met with MOCA officials on Tuesday, May 13th to learn about the greatest needs and where international donors’ contributions can make the largest impact.

The government was prioritizing clearing roads and restoring communication to the most affected areas, around Wenchuan, Sichuan province, which was only reached Wednesday, nearly two days after the quake.  Many local schools collapsed and more than thousand students were trapped under the rubble. Due to torrential rain, planes and helicopters with relief teams and supplies were also unable to land in the area.  MOCA identified the most immediate needs as blankets, warm jackets, and tents. In the coming weeks and months, continued, long-term support will also be needed to help these families rebuild their communities.

Domestically, private and corporate contributions to disaster preparedness and relief efforts are on the rise. This was seen most recently in the response to the severe snow storms in Southern China earlier this year.

Through a two-year project, The Asia Foundation is working to  promote greater collaboration among such private enterprises, government agencies, and local charities and relief organizations to help Chinese communities better prepare for disasters and bring much-needed relief to those afflicted by ones like this week’s earthquake.

This Public-Private Partnerships for Disaster Management Program is supported by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and represents a joint initiative between The Asia Foundation, MOCA’s Department of Disaster and Social Relief, the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) in China, and the International Department of the Chinese Enterprise Confederation.

For ways to contribute to relief efforts through the Foundation, click here.

Jonathan Stromseth is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in China. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: China


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InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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