China rebuilds six months after quake, amid frustrations
Beichuan, China (AFP) Nov 10, 2008
Rebuilding work is in full swing in China's Sichuan province six months after the worst earthquake in a generation levelled entire towns, but for some families, help is slow and insufficient.
The magnitude-8.0 earthquake that struck the southwest province on May 12, leaving nearly 88,000 people dead or missing, triggered one of the biggest relief efforts in Chinese history.
But not all help has seeped its way to the grassroots, and 45-year-old Zhu Chengjian said he was frustrated he had not yet been able to move on restoring his flattened tea processing factory in Leigu township.
"We want to rebuild and we want to rebuild fast," he said. "So far the pace is too slow."
Zhu said he had been haggling with local officials for a zero-interest loan promised by the Beijing central government to help small businesses rebuild.
But the local administration will not give him the loan unless he agrees to give up his land and move the plant -- which Zhu refuses to do.
Elsewhere, both sides of the road to Beichuan county, one of the areas hit hardest by the quake, are stacked with piles of bricks, roof tiles, piping and other building materials.
Gone are many of the thousands of tents set up in the weeks after the quake, now replaced by semi-permanent villages made of pre-fabricated homes that in some places house up to 20,000 people
Those who are not busy rebuilding are going carefully through the piles of debris to salvage any material that can be re-used for reconstruction.
The deadliest earthquake to strike China in over 30 years caused some 124 billion dollars in direct economic losses, while reconstruction costs could exceed 245 billion dollars, according to official estimates.
It left millions homeless or displaced, flattening entire cities and towns while destroying schools, hospitals, homes, buildings and factories in nearly 50,000 villages.
"The sheer numbers and degree of devastation make the task ahead daunting," the United Nation's top official in China, Khalid Malik, told AFP.
"The quake... left more than five million homeless as whole villages were razed, 1.5 million people in Sichuan lost their jobs. In the hardest hit areas, more than 80 percent are unemployed."
China has thrown great effort into rescue and relief work and has earmarked 146 billion dollars in reconstruction funds for the first three years, Malik said.
But according to the government, only about 9.5 billion dollars have been actually disbursed.
The shock of the devastation, a few months ahead of the Beijing Olympics, galvanised the entire nation. The government reacted quickly while donations poured in from all parts of China and the world.
Donations for the quake have exceeded 8.7 billion dollars, with up to 200 million dollars coming from overseas for disaster relief, the government has said.
But farmers who live in the mountains around Beichuan have largely been left to their own devices and are awaiting subisidies promised by the government to help rebuild, said one named Yang.
"They cleared the road of the rocks, but it is up to ourselves to rebuild our homes," he said.
The Beichuan county seat, once home to nearly 40,000 people, was flattened by the quake that left nearly 20,000 dead or missing there, and the city will be rebuilt elsewhere.
The government now plans to leave the city in its full state of destruction and turn it into an earthquake museum as part of an effort to bring in income from tourism.
"The government has done as much as they could do, people are grateful for this... they also know that corruption is inevitable," said Wang Ke, 50, a store owner in Leigu.
"Most people have lost almost everything so there are a lot of complaints, including over land."
Despite the loud demands by locals for a faster recovery and reconstruction process, the UN is urging the central government to go slower, Malik said.
"Early recovery and reconstruction have to be conducted with a longer term sustainable development perspective, that is build back better," Malik said.
"It is one thing to build back fast. It is another to build back better."
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