Friday, April 16, 2010

Quake Exposes Vulnerability

Rescue efforts are still continuing in Yushu County, Qinghai Province where the 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit on Wednesday morning before 8am.

So far at least 617 are dead, and some 10,000 injured, and over 100,000 homeless.

Chinese state media are showing constant images of trucks and planes carrying rescue workers, sniffer dogs, tents, first aid and food to quake survivors, where temperatures overnight are below zero.

The earthquake happened just before school started, and there are reports that 11 schools have collapsed, killing 66 students so far. It eerily echoes what happened almost two years ago in Sichuan, where we still don't know the exact number of students who died there and who was responsible for constructing the shoddily-built schools.

Apparently a 2009 report surveyed schools in Qinghai and found most of them were built before 2001, which means they do not meet current government earthquake resistance standards.

What's also interesting is that soon after the earthquake hit in Yushu, the Tibetan monks there immediately came out to help the community. They were actually the first responders to the quake and tried to help people even though many of their monasteries were hit badly.

Yushu is not one of the areas that saw riots in 2008; it is very much a Tibetan town with 97 percent of people there being Tibetan. However, the government's 2006 policy of pushing Tibetan nomads to give up their nomadic lifestyle and herds and live in permanent structures with no obvious forms of income may bring up bitterness again with the collapsed buildings everywhere.

The Chinese government is keen to show Tibetans that they are handling this situation well. President Hu Jintao cut short his visit to Latin America, while Premier Wen Jiabao postponed his trip to southeast Asia to visit the quake-hit area. He promised the government would rebuild Yushu.

While the slogan, "Fight the earthquake. Stage a rescue effort and rebuild our home," seems heroic, the reality is that relief efforts will be difficult in this place which doesn't have much good infrastructure. Basic medicine and medical supplies are scarce. Some of the injured have been sent to Xian hospitals.

And the food people are getting? Instant noodles. While convenient, they are hardly nutritional. Or is a certain company benefiting from guanxi?

There are lots of pictures of people going through the rubble with their bare hands, or poking at the giant mound of debris with a stick. The heavy machinery should have arrived by now and hopefully more people will be found alive.

However, rescuers are also having to contend with freezing temperatures and concerns of the thin air because Yushu is 3,700 metres above sea level. Rescue workers haven't had time to acclimatize to the atmosphere and aren't able to deal with the lack of oxygen very well, neither can the sniffer dogs.

It's too bad these natural disasters quickly expose the vulnerability of China. The country is so eager and proud to show off its wealth and modern infrastructure, particularly in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. But the images of collapsed buildings and desperation only reveal how far China still has to go.

1 comment:

ks said...

the infrastructure of china still has a long way to go. a more aggressive developing program is needed for the 'outback'.