On 12th May 2008 a devastating earthquake hit Sichuan and neighbouring provinces of China, killing almost 70,000 people and leaving nearly 1.5 million without shelter. Within the most affected 7 cities and 17 townships, over 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed. Electricity, water supply and telephone networks were destroyed and roads cut off.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake ActionAid provided 23,500 people with relief items including food, medicines, and toiletries.
In the longer term we have helped over 2,200 people, notably by providing livestock, fertiliser and tools for small-scale farming. We provided fertiliser for 600 poor families.
We helped 44 poor families to rebuild their houses, with grants of RMB6000–RMB10000 (£420-£700) to supplement government housing grants. We have also built the first two of twelve low-cost, eco-friendly houses in Sichuan.
ActionAid's knowledge and experience from previous disasters have been in demand. In our discussions with the government we stressed the importance of conducting Participatory Vulnerability Assessments (PVAs) to ensure that poor people’s concerns are taken into account.
At a conference organised by the national government's Poverty Alleviation Office a few weeks after the earthquake, ActionAid's emergencies team shared their experience of working on disasters in Iran, India, Pakistan and African countries. At a second conference, held in Beijing in September 2008 by the government body responsible for earthquake rehabilitation, ActionAid presented its participatory approach.
As a result of these two conferences, ActionAid was asked to provide training on participatory vulnerability analysis to government staff working in 19 villages. We were also asked to contribute to the government’s five-year strategic plan for earthquake rehabilitation.
In 2009 we conducted more PVAs, with the focus shifting to disaster preparedness. We showed how disaster risk reduction plans developed at village level can feed in to local government planning.
In January 2009 ActionAid helped to organise a visit to Bangladesh for an eight-person team including members of community groups from Sichuan, national non-governmental organisations, a journalist and a university professor. The team met people who had lived through disasters and heard how participatory approaches were used in the various stages of disaster response. They also met officials from the Bangladesh government and discussed government policy, roles and responsibilities during an emergency.
Recovery is far from complete. In the earthquake area, many people still do not have a continuing source of income. Among the things still needed are:
- improved infrastructure and public services in resettlement areas
- more work on disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction
- more resources to help people to begin earning a living again.
As the rehabilitation work enters its second year, ActionAid's work continues.