China disaster-ready 10 years after quake kills 70 000
KUALA LUMPUR: A decade after an earthquake killed almost 70 000 people, China’s investment in disaster preparedness means a similar tragedy is unlikely, said experts who urged other Asian nations to follow suit.
The quake that rocked Sichuan on May 12, 2008, left about 10 000 children dead, many buried under rubble when their schools collapsed.
With almost 5 million people homeless and facing a public backlash in the aftermath of the quake, China has since invested heavily to transform the way it prepares and responds to earthquakes, according to disaster experts.
“Out of the Sichuan tragedy has come huge progress,” said Loretta Hieber Girardet, Asia- Pacific chief for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
China had “taken very strong measures to ensure the loss of life and economic losses would not be the same in a future earthquake”.
Although China is the most earthquake- prone nation in Asia, other countries in the region – like the Philippines, Myanmar, Nepal, India, Indonesia and Japan – face similar threats.
Many are also experiencing unprecedented urbanisation, which experts say makes it vital they improve their disaster preparedness and response capabilities.
“More and more people are living in hazard-prone areas or assets built along fault lines, which increases the risk,” said Arghya Sinha Roy, a disaster risk specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila.
Over the past 50 years, China has experienced an average of three earthquakes per year, leaving 380 000 people dead and affecting more than 75 million people, according to the UNISDR.
In addition to the loss of lives and livelihoods, the UN agency estimates that the average annual cost due to future earthquakes in China will be about $7 billion (R85.7bn).
Given that the Sichuan quake destroyed an estimated 1.5 million homes and 7 000 classrooms, two of the most critical steps China has since taken were to strictly enforce building codes and improve safety at schools, said Girardet.
“The big cause of death and destruction in the Sichuan earthquake was the collapse of buildings that had been quite shabbily constructed,” Girardet said.
As well as retrofitting and rebuilding many schools in quake-prone areas, China is educating children about the risks and hazards relating to quakes and what to do in a disaster.
In addition to regular school drills, Beijing has pledged more than $31 million over the next five years to develop seismic science and technology.
Dedicated satellites also help track and monitor hazards – be they earthquakes, storms and mudslides – 24 hours a day. China’s Prepared Assistance to Disaster Affected Areas programme has also reduced risks, said Saini Yang, a professor of disaster risk reduction at Beijing Normal University.
The initiative pairs more developed provinces and cities with disaster- prone areas so that they can provide assistance, expertise and financial support before and after disasters.
The speed and efficiency of Chinese authorities in postquake reconstruction efforts has also been critical in limiting the impact on economic growth and on people’s lives, said Saini, who advises the government when disasters happen.
China also now has 700 000 people trained as disaster reporters, who can quickly collect information for regional and central governments on the impact of an earthquake.” – Reuters/Africa News Agency (ANA)
Visitors at the destroyed Xuankou Middle School which now is the memorial site for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in Yingxiu town, south-western China’s Sichuan province. The 10th anniversary of the magnitude 7.9 earthquake which struck Sichuan where almost 90 000 people were killed or went missing on May 12.