Sichuan Earthquake: Relief Efforts and Challenges Ahead

It is now over 100 days since the worst earthquake in a century devastated parts of Sichuan on May 12, 2008. For quake survivors, it is only the beginning of a painfully long journey of healing and recovery for which they will need our continuing empathy and support. - By Theresa Carino

Relief operations

Amity Foundation staff were among the first to arrive in Chengdu hours after the quake struck on May 12. The Nanjing Headquarters’ rapid response and commitment of at least 5 million RMB enabled thousands to be helped when and where it was most needed. Teams of 6 to 8 Amity staff and volunteers from Nanjing (including Hong Kong) were sent to quake sites to help local partners in direct distribution of relief goods.

To date, Amity’s relief operations have benefited over 120,000 people in the worst-hit counties of Beichuan, Wenchuan, Pengzhou, Dujiangyan, Mianzhu and Shifang. Donations of 24 million RMB (US$ 3.5 million) have been received and Amity has already disbursed 6.5 million RMB (US$ 920,000) in relief goods including thousands of polyurethane sheets (for shelters), rice, cooking oil, drinking water, noodles, baby food, quilts and diapers. In the distribution of goods, Amity ensured the needs of the most disadvantaged, including the handicapped and the elderly, were met. It took care that badly affected rural areas were not overlooked in relief operations. Notably, in many rural areas, village infrastructure, including roads and water systems had sustained severe damage. More than 90% of the homes had been destroyed and people were living on subsistence.

Amity sent a team of 7 social work professors and psychologists from Nanjing, to provide counseling and assess the social psychological needs of quake victims. The team interviewed 1,300 people, visiting over 70 tents and helped counsel groups of children, widows, the injured and the handicapped in tent settlements. They observed that many well meaning but poorly trained volunteers tried to give comfort and offered counseling which often led to tremendous confusion among quake survivors as they were given conflicting advice. Adults seemed the least psychologically equipped to deal with the disaster as guilt feelings were strong. More than 5,000 children died in the quake and it will take a long time for their surviving parents to overcome their grief. In Mianzhu, it was estimated that more than 30,000 had been injured and would be needing assistance. Looking ahead, quake survivors living in tents or temporary homes over the next two to three years will be meeting great social and psychological challenges. There is a desperate need to have more trained psychologists to help those traumatized. Amity is drafting plans to support the training of locally based counselors.

Rehabilitation work

Amity began the first phase of its earthquake rehabilitation work in July, helping schools, the church in Mianzhu and the village of Woyun, 20 minutes from Guanji City. We helped to equip 6 schools in Mianzhu for the resumption of classes. Classes are being held in temporary school buildings that are almost bare of basic equipment. Amity has provided printers, copiers, computers and drinking water dispensers, essential in serving students’ needs. We will help to build a temporary school laboratory in Guangji School, serving over 1,500 students. The kindergarten in Jiulong School which lost 110 teachers and students will be re-equipped with an activity room and educational toys. Library sets are being prepared for distribution to schools.

Church in Mianzhu

Amity will help construct a temporary building for Mianzhu Church which was irreparably damaged during the quake. The number of worshippers has doubled since the quake. Many new worshippers have been flocking to the evening services held in tents, in the church grounds. The original congregation numbered 500 but the temporary building will be big enough to hold 1,000 worshippers. There are plans to construct a social service center beside the church to provide health and other services to quake victims. Amity will work in tandem with the church to provide these services.

Rebuilding communities

Woyun Village with a population of 2,500 will be the site of Amity’s integrated rehabilitation efforts. More than 90% of the homes in Woyun collapsed or became uninhabitable without major repair. Amity plans to help rebuild homes for Woyun’s 935 households. Most villagers are living in temporary shacks constructed from salvaged materials and tarpaulin. Their greatest need at the moment is to rebuild their homes, which they hope can withstand the strong after-shocks and tremors that continue to plague the area.

In many areas, the physical devastation is still very visible as the government tries to clear the rubble and the debris. The internal wounds of people are less visible but just as much in need of healing. The reconstruction of homes and infrastructure will go a long way in providing a sense of security and a base from which quake survivors can begin to rebuild their shattered lives. Your help is most needed.

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