Saturday, May 24, 2008

China struggles to rebuild lives

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has visited areas within the devastated region of Sichuan as the official death toll rose to 60,560. “The whole world and the UN stands behind you” he said while visiting Yingxiu. He spoke too in praise of the government’s swift and open response to the disaster [CNN / BBC / Sky News]. Dr Matt Marko, a general practitioner who had travelled to Wuxi to help survivors, told CNN that medical supplies were still needed. He said many people had suffered from fractures and dehydration.

The rescue effort has given way to a phase of recovery in many parts of Sichuan. Most survivors are dependent on food aid some of which has come from foreign companies such as Coca Cola and French supermarket giant Carrefour. Aid from domestic and foreign sources has exceeded 26 billion Yuan and continues to pour in. But attempting to house and feed nearly 5 million displaced persons is proving difficult. China has made appeals for more tents and factories have been asked to step up production. Getting food to people in areas still cut off by the quake is also proving difficult. But the real worry is the risk of disease and infection. Troops have been spraying disinfectant and bleach onto ruins and dead animals to prevent the spread of disease.
Sanitation is providing a major problem across the devastated region. Many water supplies have been disrupted and temporary toilet facilities have been set up. Personal hygiene has been lacking in many places as people are unable to bathe or shower. One resident who spoke to tvnewswatch from Mianyang has described the living situation as “difficult”. Although their home had not been destroyed in the earthquake they had sought refuge in the family car. “We did return to the flat once to shower” said Mr Zhang, “We couldn’t stand being dirty any more” . The family also used the opportunity to catch up on the news. Because people are living outside, few have access to television and news is only accessible via radio broadcasts. The family described the situation at the sports stadiums in the town as uncomfortable and “smelly”. Hundreds of people have been living in the temporary refuge and have been unable to wash for over a week. The sanitation was even less appetising. “The toilets are disgusting” said his wife.
Mr Zhang and his wife, a government official, have worked tirelessly in helping the relief effort, relying on a portable radio for updates to the developing situation. Their daughter who works abroad was worried for her parents but managed to get through on the telephone within hours of the earthquake. She was comforted to find they were safe but was saddened to learn a neighbour had died in the tremor.
There is hardly a single family unaffected by the disaster. Some have lost nearly every family member as well as most of their possessions. A CCTV reporter spoke to earthquake survivors on the road who were making the dangerous journey to their devastated home to retrieve what they could. One said he had lost his mother, father, wife and son in the tragedy but had to continue with his life as best he could. He like many others have to try and rebuild their lives. As they do, the world’s attention is gradually shifting away. Newspaper coverage in the West began to wane after only a few days. Now nearly two weeks after the quake struck only CNN gives regular updates from the region. Even CCTV-9 has begun to drop its constant rolling news coverage. For the people of Sichuan the real struggle is only just beginning.

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