Lessons must be drawn from relief effort following the 2005 earthquake
China’s relief effort is now focusing on providing shelter for those displaced after an estimated 4M homes were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake in Sichuan province earlier this month.
And the Chinese government must use international expertise to ensure that it gets the shelter strategy right, said Arup water engineer Mark Buttle, a member of disaster relief charity RedR.
“It’s vital to quickly agree a coherent shelter strategy that everyone buys into,” said Buttle. He worked on relief and rehabilitation projects following the earthquakes in north east Afghanistan in 2002 and Pakistan in 2005.
“Coordination of the strategy and quality of materials is key and the international community should have a major role to play in that.”
Often local officials, without much relevant experience, are put in charge of the shelter strategy, he added.
In Pakistan, for example, a lot of civil servants were bought in to run camps but were often unaware of international standards.
“I would imagine that a lot of people would be coming out of very normal jobs to assist the Chinese authorities,” he said.
Buttle added that the Chinese could learn lessons from the relief effort in Pakistan. As with China, the Pakistan army headed up the relief effort.
“If a military person sets up a tented camp it tends to be in straight lines and rows with no sense of community at all. It’s very impersonal,” said Buttle.
“Agencies with expertise would set up the tents in clusters so that people feel like they know their neighbour and perhaps get together and help each other. One of the problems [in Pakistan] was that the Pakistani army was not present at all the coordination meetings.”
He warned that the Chinese authorities had to ensure shelters were kept away from flood risk areas, following reports of rivers breaking their banks after they were blocked by landslides.
“What tends to happen is that people build random shelters in the areas of the town or city often most at risk of flooding. Someone needs to take control.”
The Pakistan earthquake was comparable to China in terms of its magnitude, the number of casualties and the mountainous terrain.
As in Pakistan, relief in China has been hampered by blocked roads and a lack of heavy plant.
In such a situation priority actions are to get to people in remoter and high altitude locations.