China quake: one year on, still rebuilding
Survivors make do with plywood, donations, and stoicism. Some enjoy new homes.
"Welcome to our disaster zone," says Dong Jian with a wry smile as he stands in the playground of the village school here – transformed since last year's earthquake into Spartan living quarters for survivors.Skip to next paragraph
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Nearly 12 months on, aftershocks still tremble regularly in this remote spot, hemmed in by forested mountains. But the temblors are small enough, or perhaps Mr. Dong has become accustomed enough, that he is building himself a new family home.
So are several hundred thousand other peasant farmers the length and breadth of the earthquake zone. Where the roads in this region were blocked a year ago by piles of rubble, today they are often obstructed by piles of new bricks, heaps of sand and cement, or stacks of re-bar
On larger construction sites around the province, government contractors are racing against the ambitious official deadline – that all earthquake victims should be re-housed by the second anniversary of the quake, May 12, 2010.
"We are very close to victory," claims Sun Ming, deputy director of the construction committee in the provincial capital, Chengdu.
That optimism masks the enormous range of circumstances in which earthquake survivors are living one year after they fled their homes just after lunch on May 12, 2008, when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake killed almost 90,000 people and forced 15 million to sleep in the streets.
Depending on the efficiency of their local government, their location, and their personal circumstances, they could still be cramped into an emergency tent protected by a makeshift shell of thin plywood. They could be making do in a barracks-like temporary housing camp, as well over one million residents are currently doing. Or they could be enjoying the comforts of a brand new bungalow with a biogas-fueled stove.
In this farming village overlooking the Du Ba river, Dong is one of several residents rebuilding his home with the help of a 19,000 RMB ($2,794) grant from the government, a 50,000 RMB ($7,350) low-interest bank loan, and another 50,000 RMB ($7,350) in loans from relatives, in what appears to be a typical pattern of funding across the quake zone.
His home will be larger, more comfortable, and stronger than the house in which he lived before with his father, wife, and child. But he sees no silver lining in the earthquake.
"We have no money left now," he points out. "Without the earthquake we would not have been in such a hurry to build a new house."
Depending on donations
Those of his neighbors with no money in the first place are even worse off. Shi Peifu, an unemployed former soldier, says he is helpless to repair his leaky home, where the walls have grown moldy, without savings or help from relatives.
"I hope we will somehow save some money this year and rebuild next year," explains his wife, Ge Huashui. In the meantime, she and her husband sleep in the same tent that emergency relief workers gave them a year ago.
For the first six months after the earthquake, the government gave all those who had lost their homes a small stipend. Since the beginning of this year, however, they have been on their own.
"We can't all rely on the government," says Dong gamely. "They are under heavy pressure and have a big burden already. We can only rely on ourselves."