An earthquake in China Sunday, of 6.1-magnitude, in a mountainous farming region of Yunnan province has killed 615 people as of Thursday with another 114 missing. This follows the devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, of 7.8-magnitude, when more than 69,000 people died and more than 18,000 remain missing. Almost 5 million people were made homeless by that tragic event.
The earthquake this week has renewed discussion about building practices in China.
Rebuilding China Earthquake
Sunday’s earthquake injured more than 1,800. About 12,000 homes collapsed in Ludian, a densely populated county located around 366 kilometres northeast of Yunnan’s capital, Kunming, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.
Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were old and made of brick, Xinhua said, adding that electricity and telecommunications were cut off in the county.
Yunnan Information Daily, a Kunming newspaper, reported Monday that a three-story police station in Longtoushan had collapsed, burying at least four police officers, who were confirmed dead. Upon reading this, some commenters on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, questioned why a police station in an earthquake-prone region would not have been built to tougher standards.
Other government buildings in Longtoushan, including a middle school, collapsed or were heavily damaged, according to Chinese news agencies People.nc and Xinhua.
Earthquakes have been a sensitive topic for China’s ruling Communist Party since the 2008 disaster in Sichuan, said the Belleville News-Democrat also Monday. In the days after the 2008 quake, the government attempted to suppress reports that lax building standards and inspections had contributed to the fatalities, including the deaths of hundreds of children in collapsed school buildings.
As of Monday evening, the government had not taken down comments on Weibo questioning why some local government buildings in the earthquake zone had collapsed.
While damage to infrastructure is inevitable with high magnitude earthquakes, China’s notoriously slack construction standards have heightened casualty rates in previous earthquakes, none more so than in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, according to the Asian Correspondent Thursday. Of the casualties from the Sichuan earthquake, 5,000 of were schoolchildren who died when their shoddy school building collapsed in on them. The number of schools that crumbled so feebly during that quake, while government buildings remained standing, has been blamed on the corruption and mismanagement of local officials. These shortcomings at the local government-level, along with the swindling of donations by the China’s government-run Red Cross charity during the rescue operation, exposed broader issues within the internal running of the states.
Reports from Yunnan after Sunday’s quake claim that most homes destroyed were those of farmer’s huts made from wood and stone, yet China Daily released a report stating that in the Zhaotong area of Yunnan 134 schools collapsed as a result of the quake, which they have defended as being built prior to 2000. Fortunately, the quake hit during the school holidays, but it is hard not to feel in light of this revelation that the government’s incompetence and lack of diligence toward their citizen’s lives is as strong as it was six years ago in Sichuan.
The need for China to invest in schemes such as earthquake damage prevention is evident from a recent earthquake report that has recorded 15 earthquakes over a magnitude of 5.5 that have struck China in the past seven years, said the Asian Correspondent.
Questions are also arising about China’s rush to build big dams in its southwestern mountains, especially in the wake of a number of smaller quakes since the water level was raised last year at the Xiluodu hydropower station, which lies about 100 miles north of the epicentre of Sunday’s quake, according to the Washington Post Wednesday.
Large reservoirs are known to put pressure on Earth’s crust and can cause quakes, although the link is often hard to establish definitively. China’s dash for hydropower, linked to soaring energy needs, has been the subject of much criticism, especially because many of the dams are being built in regions of “high or very high seismic hazard.”
There are 25 dams planned or under construction on the Jinsha River, a 1,400-mile tributary of the Yangtze River that runs through Zhaotong.
Fan Xiao, chief engineer in the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, said that more than 2,000 small quakes had been detected since the water level increase at the Xiluodu dam in October and that a magnitude 5.3 temblor was observed near the hydropower station in April.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported this week that a huge lake has formed as a result of landslides caused by Sunday’s earthquake, containing close to 50 million cubic metres of water. The lake is near an under-construction hydropower station and threatens seven other stations downstream.
The World Bank visited various destroyed sites following the 2008 earthquake and reported that water, electricity, and gas systems were largely paralyzed and telecommunications and transportation severely disrupted. General infrastructure was also overwhelmingly damaged, with approximately 7,444 schools, 11,028 medical institutions, and 34,125 kilometres of highways devastated, in a region that was already among the poorest and most vulnerable in China.
The overall direct economic loss was estimated to be RMB 845 billion (US$130 billion).
Under the auspices of the World Bank-financed Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project, the agency concluded a review of China’s national master plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the earthquake and six sector-specific recovery plans in May 2012. This includes lessons learned from the Chinese and international experiences in earthquake reconstruction and policy recommendations to further improve reconstruction efforts.
Overall, about 41,130 projects for reconstruction and rehabilitation were undertaken, 99 per cent of which were completed within a two year period, said World Bank. This was largely made possible thanks to the innovative measures such as a partnership scheme set up among provinces – basically, the Central Government paired up each affected county with an unaffected province, which then worked to provide financial and technical assistance for reconstruction and restoration.
These provinces in turn worked to raise awareness among their population and industrial sectors of the needs of the affected provinces they were assisting. In this way, civil society was also massively mobilized. In total, over RMB 949 billion (US$146 billion) were invested for reconstruction.
Further, the earthquake provided an opportunity to reconstruct all public-service facilities in the affected areas with high seismic standards and modern equipment, said World Bank. Some RMB108 billion (US$16.6 billion) were spent in these facilities, including investments in medical and sanitation facilities and social management. Schools and hospitals are now fully restored and reconstructed, as are social welfare houses, elderly homes, community service centres, and village activity centres.