School Buildings among Worst Affected by Earthquake; CHINA DIARIES

Article excerpt

Byline: Christian Saunders

AT 2.28pm on May 12, 2008, the ground in Sichuan Province, Southern China, shook and millions of people looked on helplessly as Mother Nature unleashed her wrath and reduced all they had worked for to piles of rubble and dust. At the time of writing the confirmed death toll from the Sichuan earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter Scale and is China's worst natural disaster for 30 years, stands at almost 70,000 with a further 15,000 still missing, 500,000 people injured and more than five million left homeless. The shock waves were felt thousands of miles away.

Many of the dead and injured were children. The schools they were attending were built on a shoestring budget and were among the first buildings to collapse, while nearby government offices remained comparatively unaffected. Read into that what you will, but the accusation is that during construction money was siphoned away from schools and public buildings and redirected into government dwellings.

Such misery and tragedy is barely comprehensible, especially for those of us lucky enough to be safely cocooned in safe European homes, but the earthquake itself was just the start of the nightmare. After the earthquake came the rain, then the floods, and now much of the area is under water. Millions of cattle and livestock have also been killed and vast swathes of farmland have been affected. This will inevitably lead to future economic problems, on top of the billions it will take to rebuild the stricken region. One think tank put the total economic loss as in excess of 500 billion RMB (pounds 38 billion).

Another factor that will undoubtedly claim more lives is the outbreak of disease which often follows natural disasters. Animal carcasses are left to rot where they lie, while rescuers and aid workers focus their attention on more pressing matters, infecting everything around them. …