By S. M. Hali

China 2008 EarthquakeOn May 12, 2008, a 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted Wenchuan and surrounding areas in China, killing at least 87,000 people and leaving millions homeless. Covering just 3.3 square kilometers, the quake brutally hit Beichuan county seat, leaving 20,000 dead or missing. Neighboring provinces, such as Gansu and Shaanxi, were also affected. Three years down the line, we notice that the brave people of Sichuan Province have bounced back despite the devastation and colossal loss of lives. Important lessons can be learnt from the resilience, courage and steadfastness of the people of Sichuan Province and China’s leadership, which not only overcame the shock, trauma and aftereffects of the natural calamity but has rebuilt its province, homes and hearth. This week, more than 100,000 people returned to the county seat to mourn for the dead.

This week, China's first earthquake museum was opened in Sichuan. It covers 140,000 square meters, and is made up of six theme sections with 270 exhibits and 559 photos. Touching pictures of the victims, rescuers and other people who helped the victims are exhibited in the halls in different sections. The people of Sichuan Province have shown the world that the earthquake that hit them on May 12, 2008, brought them down but not out. It only strengthened their resolve to rise like a phoenix from the rubble and show the world how to rebuild their lives after natural or manmade disasters.  

Ninety-five percent of reconstruction projects have been completed, with the remainder are set to be finished by the end of September, Mu Hong, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top economic planning agency, announced at a news briefing hosted by the State Council Information Office. By the end of April, 885.15 billion Yuan (US$136 billion), or 92.37 percent of the overall reconstruction budget, had been spent, according to official figures from the NDRC. In Sichuan alone, nearly 3,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals and more than 5 million homes have been built or renovated, according to Wei Hong, executive vice-governor of Sichuan province. Majority of the government goals for reconstruction have been basically met. The most impressive record is that every family has been provided a home and a job, and everyone is protected by social security. Infrastructure has been upgraded, the economy developed and ecology improved. Few or none of the fully developed countries, even the USA can boast of such a remarkable comeback. The affectees of the hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, leaving death and destruction in its wake, brought severe criticism of the US government, then President Bush as well as the emergency and disaster management services. Compared to the earthquake at Sichuan, Katrina was myopic since 1836 people lost their lives but poor management and public outcry resulted in the resignation of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown, and of New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Eddie Compass. Sixyears later, thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are still living in temporary accommodation.

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Conversely, in Sichuan Province, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced that the disaster response would be rapid. Just 90 minutes after the earthquake, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who has an academic background in geomechanics, flew to the earthquake area to oversee the rescue work. Soon afterward, China’s Health Ministry said that it had sent ten emergency medical teams to Wenchuan County in southwest China's Sichuan Province. On the same day, China's Chengdu Military Area Command dispatched 50,000 troops and armed police to help with disaster relief work in Wenchuan County. However, due to the rough terrain and close proximity of the quake's epicenter, the soldiers found it very difficult to get help to the rural regions of the province. The National Disaster Relief Commission initiated a "Level II emergency contingency plan", which covers the most serious class of natural disasters. The plan rose to Level I at 22:15 CST, May 12. An earthquake emergency relief team of 184 people (consisting of 12 people from the State Seismological Bureau, 150 from the Beijing Military Area Command, and 22 from the Armed Police General Hospital) left Beijing from Nanyuan Airport late May 12 in two military transport planes to travel to Wenchuan County.

Persistent heavy rain and landslides in Wenchuan County and the nearby area badly affected rescue efforts.  At the start of rescue operations on May 12, 20 helicopters were deployed for the delivery of food, water, and emergency aid, and also the evacuation of the injured and reconnaissance of quake-stricken areas. By 17:37 CST on May 13, a total of over 15,600 troops and militia reservists from the Chengdu Military Region had joined the rescue force in the heavily affected areas. A commander reported from Yingxiu town, Wenchuan, that around 3,000 survivors were found, while the status of the other inhabitants (around 9,000) remained unclear. The 1,300 rescuers reached the epicenter, and 300 pioneer troops reached the main town of Wenchuan at about 23:30 CST. By 12:17 CST, May 14, 2008, communication in the major town of Wenchuan was partly revived. On the afternoon of May 14, 15 Special Operations Troops, along with relief supplies and communications gear, parachuted into inaccessible Maoxian County, northeast of Wenchuan.By May 15, China's Premier Wen Jiabao ordered the deployment of an additional 90 helicopters, of which 60 were to be provided by the PLAAF, and 30 were to be provided by the civil aviation industry, bringing the total of number of aircraft deployed in relief operations by the air force, army, and civil aviation to over 150, resulting in China's largest ever non-combat airlifting operation. The Internet was extensively used for passing information to aid rescue and recovery in China. For example, the official news agency Xinhua set up an online rescue request center in order to find the blind spots of disaster. After knowing that rescue helicopters had trouble landing into the epicenter area in Wenchuan, a student proposed a landing spot online and it was chosen as the first touchdown place for the helicopters. Volunteers also set up several websites to help store contact information for victims and evacuees.  Rescue efforts performed by the Chinese government were praised by the critical western media, and China's openness during the media covering of the Sichuan earthquake led a professor at the Beijing University to say, “This is the first time [that] the Chinese media has lived up to international standards”. Los Angeles Times praised China's media coverage of the quake of being "democratic". The government of Pakistan too responded wholeheartedly and dispatched tents, medicines and medical teams to aid their Chinese brothers in their hour of need.

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China’s government has set an example of an efficient government bureaucracy, reviving the region destroyed by the deadly quake, and depicting how efficiency, resolve and close supervision can overcome the aftereffects of the worst disasters.