Insights and Analysis

From China: Long-term Earthquake Relief for Sichuan and Gansu Provinces

May 6, 2009

By Bulbul Gupta and Pan Yi

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake struck central China leaving more than 86,000 people dead and missing and some 15 million homeless. In the year since this disaster, the Chinese government has undertaken the enormous task of rebuilding homes and schools through an innovative twinning approach, allocating rural and urban areas hit by the earthquake to various provinces and cities across China to assist in the reconstruction. The goal is to complete the rebuilding of rural homes and schools by the end of this year.


The progress in reconstruction is a major achievement, but there has been something else of equal significance, and that is progress in the government’s approach to disaster management. It is markedly more open than it was during major natural disasters in the 1990s, in terms of providing information about reconstruction and in terms of coordinating and cooperating with the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and community groups on disaster relief and management. The government plans to mark the one year anniversary of the earthquake, known in China as “5-12,” with events to raise public awareness about disaster preparedness.

The Asia Foundation, with its long-term presence in China, was able to immediately mobilize resources and support earthquake recovery efforts. Please visit The Asia Foundation or Give2Asia websites for ways to contribute to relief efforts. Several recovery projects that The Asia Foundation is implementing are highlighted below.

Rural Housing Rehabilitation in Sichuan Province

With funding support from the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, we are working to promote safe rehabilitation of rural shelters. There are two types of rural reconstruction in Sichuan: one designed and constructed through the government and government sub-contractors, and one undertaken directly by homeowners. Our efforts are targeting this latter group, focusing on the most disadvantaged households and villages. There is great need to provide technical support to rural homeowners who are not covered by or participating in the government plan, so that they can make informed and safe decisions from among the multiple building styles and techniques that are being developed across Sichuan. To meet this need, the Foundation and its partners (the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Sichuan University College of Architecture and Environment, and Build Change) are assessing, identifying, and disseminating best practices in safe, rural reconstruction, considering local topography, villager preferences, and the availability of supplies.

Community and Economic Empowerment for Women in Sichuan Province

The epicenter of the earthquake was in Sichuan Province. Among those left homeless and economically vulnerable were women and women-headed households in Maoxian County, one of the poorest counties in Sichuan and largely populated by ethnic Qiang. Most of the women act as heads of their households in Maoxian, as many men from this area migrate for work to coastal cities in China. The Asia Foundation, with support from Give2Asia’s donors including the Committee of 100 and the China Earthquake Recovery Fund, is helping hundreds of Maoxian local women to build sustainable livelihoods and participate in their communities’ overall recovery and reconstruction efforts. Since the project’s launch, the project has already reached 566 households in Maoxian County. Specifically, the project has established a self-help group of Qiang ethnic women in the village of Mu’er to assist women in community recovery planning; provided support to rebuild almost 200 homes in the village of Moutuo; and established a foundation for the women’s livelihood reconstruction fund that will support their economic empowerment.

Zhou Xingbi, an ethnic Qiang woman from Mu’er Village who participated in a project-supported embroidery design competition, is skilled at making Qiang embroidery products, but has never had a chance to sell her products for money. She said recently, “I once saw similar Qiang embroidery clothes in a store [in Chengdu] and the price was about RMB 1,000-2,000 (US$147-294) a piece. I can also make the same clothes. I do not expect to sell it at RMB 2,000; even RMB 1,000 is enough. After you came to help us, I have more confidence to try and sell my products to outside markets.”

Clean Water Solutions for Gansu Province

Neighboring Gansu Province was also affected by the earthquake, but has received far less attention from the outside world. Tragically, the hardest hit parts of Gansu province were regions that were already in deep poverty. The water supply systems in these villages were damaged, resulting in unstable water quality. Securing sustainable access to clean drinking water for poor families has been one of the most difficult challenges of the earthquake reconstruction and recovery process.

With the support of PepsiCo Foundation through Give2Asia, The Asia Foundation has worked with the Fuping Development Institute and local officials to improve access to clean water for hundreds of families for 13 villages, and is now expanding to two more villages in Long’nan Prefecture in Gansu, with additional funding from HB Fuller and another donor through Give2Asia.

As a short-term solution, the project used licensed water purification power to provide clean water. To meet long-term needs, the project is promoting good habits in water resource management by training local residents on proper handling and sanitation issues. As a result, more attention is now being focused on water resource management issues during the overall process of earthquake reconstruction and recovery in the county.

The project team has been working in a dynamically changing environment with different drinking water problems the past year. In the remaining months of the project, the team will continue to implement activities in the six current villages and the nine additional villages that will soon be identified. The activities will focus more on longer-term solutions, such as water treatment systems that can be managed by local villagers, improving water management practices, and changing unsafe habits through training. The new funding will also help to establish a clean water fund for equipment such as water cellars and eco-toilets, which the local village households are still in need of, for longer-term clean water and sanitation access and practices.

Bulbul Gupta is The Asia Foundation’s Grants Manager for Programs and Private Philanthropy. Pan Yi is the Program Manager for Disaster Management in China at The Asia Foundation in Beijing. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

Related locations: China
Related programs: Inclusive Economic Growth


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