News / Asia

China Ponders 2008 Earthquake Lessons

A child sits at a makeshift tent in front of homes destroyed by Saturday's earthquake in Longmen village in Lushan county of southwest China's Sichuan province, April 21, 2013.
A child sits at a makeshift tent in front of homes destroyed by Saturday's earthquake in Longmen village in Lushan county of southwest China's Sichuan province, April 21, 2013.
VOA News
As relief efforts are underway in earthquake-stricken parts of southwest China, the public rushes to donate money and some ask what lessons the government learned from the Wenchuan quake that jolted nearby areas five years ago.

On Tuesday, three days after the magnitude 7 earthquake hit Ya'an city, firefighters were still digging at homes in Lushan and Baoxing county, two of the worst hit zones.

Military helicopters continued to drop aid packages to some of the more isolated areas, where roads leading into the villages are damaged and there is still a high risk of falling rocks and landslides.

In 2008, a few days after a magnitude 8 earthquake hit Wenchuan, about 190 kilometers southwest of the epicenter of Saturday's earthquake, Emily Chan, director of the Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was on the scene helping out with the rescue response.

Chan said that compared to five years ago, authorities were faster to respond this time.

“If we look at the rescue part of this earthquake operation, I think it has been done in a very reasonable way,” Chan said. “The fact that the government managed to send teams that arrived on site two hours post earthquake, it shows and demonstrates an efficient immediate response.”

But Chan said the real challenge will start when the rescue phase ends, and the relief and reconstruction begins.


“There are a number of sites where there are a lot of casualties, and a lot of needs, which start to become more apparent after the rescue phase is completed and people start to need the medical support and post-disaster services,” she said.

Chan said China upgraded some of its earthquake building standards after the Wenchuan earthquake left almost 90,000 people dead and highlighted the problem of insecure buildings, particularly schools and hospitals.

But in an article in the China Youth Daily on Tuesday titled “On anti seismic constructions, we have to learn from Japan,” commentator Guo Wenjing noted that in some counties of Ya'an most buildings were damaged by the earthquake, including homes rebuilt after the Wenchuan earthquake.

“In Japan, for a standard eight-to-nine-story building, there are easily two to three hundred pages only devoted to anti seismic inspections,” the article said, “but for Chinese skyscrapers the entire building permits and documents might not even reach two to three hundred pages.”

Rescue efforts in Ya'an have been particularly hard because the affected area includes rural villages surrounded by hills, with often only one mountainous road to connect them with more developed urban centers.


Tian Feng, a civil society coordinator based in Chengdu, has been following the government and civil society response. He said even though the government has been faster in providing relief and more transparent in giving out information to the public, compared to 2008, some technical issues remain.

Tian said that near Longmen mountain, where the quake hit, there are some roads that are wide enough for trucks carrying weight to pass, but some areas where that is not advised.

“In some parts there is only a narrow canyon, and that is where traffic jams occurred very early on [in the emergency response], there was no way to get information and rescue staff in,” Tian said.

He said similar problems had occurred in 2008, and sending more helicopters to isolated areas earlier might have helped.

In the early hours after the quake, hundreds of volunteers rushed to the region, in what Tian called a “warm, but perhaps too fast” response to the tragedy.

Authorities are now telling volunteers not to enter the area, and to help keep local transportation and relief work unobstructed.

“From 2008 Wenchuan earthquake we had already learned that in the first phase of rescue work, civil society organizations are not very effective,” Tian said. He adds that local NGOs will play a more important role later, when their expertise on local conditions will be crucial to help victims and rebuild the area.

Public response

People have been making donations to charity organizations working for earthquake relief, and called for more online transparency over the funds' allocation.

Many Chinese have preferred to give their money to smaller, private NGOs instead of larger state-run groups, like the Red Cross which in recent years had been tainted by some corruption scandals.

On Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, many posted survival tips and advice on how to help others in an earthquake.

Chinese University of Hong Kong's Chan said more government action is needed to help educate the public about quake survival and response.

Although the government has stressed the need to help oneself until other help arrives, many living in remote areas are the elderly and the young who, analysts said, are less equipped to face emergency and find shelter.

  • People stand outside a damaged house after a strong 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit, at Longmen village, Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • A clock is seen amidst the debris of a collapsed house after a strong 6.6 magnitude earthquake, at Longmen village, Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • A village woman reacts after her house was damaged by an earthquake in Lushan county, Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • A man carries an injured woman to a temporary treatment station following an earthquake in Lushan county in Ya'an in southwest China's Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • People stand near a van on a road blocked by a large rock after a strong 6.6 magnitude earthquake, at Longmen village, Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • Men carry injured people to an ambulance at Longmen Village, Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.
  • Collapsed houses are seen after an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude, on the side of a road leading from Ya'an city to Luzhou county, in Ya'an, Sichuan province, Apr. 20, 2013.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs