China dis­as­ter-ready 10 years af­ter quake kills 70 000

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

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)

PIC­TURE: EPA/AFRICAN 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.

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