Published on April 22nd, 2013 | by Charitarian2
Lushan Earthquake: Lessons from ’08
Time is of the essence as rescue workers dig around the clock to recover children, mothers and fathers from the rubble following the earthquake on Sunday in Lushan county, SW China. Survivors have started the long road to recovery from Saturday’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The quake hit at 8 am on 20 April, 2013. Roads are blocked. Bridges are down. As more bodies are unearthed, 206 are reported dead; 11,500 injured; and 1.5 M people are displaced.
Yesterday Wang Liwei of Charitarian spent the day with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Beijing deciding the best way in which NGOs, individuals and companies can contribute to the recovery plan. We took phone calls from CSR managers in Beijing discussing the best way to manage financial contributions from staff and Government expectations re. appropriate donations.
What the Government does not want is as important as what they do. They do not want “helpful” volunteers turning up and causing unnecessary headaches for the professional rescue teams. They do not want random financial donations to NGOs with no access to the region. What they do want is long term commitment to rebuilding the region via sustainable CSR strategies operated in conjunction with Government.
One thing the earthquake has uncovered, is the incredible development in China’s rescue services since 2008. As the fifth anniversary for the devastating Wenchuan earthquake that shook Sichuan province (12 May 2008) approaches we see a government that is now better equipped and more prepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. So how are things playing out differently on the ground this time around?
Firstly, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has allocated 1 Billion RMB towards rescue workers, tents and immediate medical supplies. The focus of the Government is on short-term recovery. Secondly, the rescue services are well drilled and professionally organised. Yesterday we saw ambulances, earth moving equipment and helicopters operating as a seamless team. Professionally China seems better equipped to deal with the immediate impact of an earthquake than any other country I have witnessed in recovery mode in recent years.
But what about the long term lessons of Sichuan ’08? As Charitarian witnessed upon its return to the area around Sichuan O8′s epicentre from 2008 – 2012, there is a huge void in long-term recovery strategy that to this day remains to be filled. This is particularly evident with regards to the psychological impact on children and the bereaved in affected zones.
The psychological recovery of children and families after experiencing such traumas as flattened classmates is a woefully neglected area and one, with its resources already stretched beyond capacity, the Government simply cannot afford to fund. The Charitarian Group was one of the few organisations that focused on CSR in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake, organising play days and helping with orphaned children from Sichuan in Beijing for a few days’ levity following their trauma at home.
Destination of Donations
Companies are already starting to pledge contributions to the earthquake relief efforts in Lushan. State owned enterprises are leading in this field. China Life have pledged 10 Million RMB for recovery efforts and China Pacific 6 Million RMB (in proportion to their size). This is a speedy response which will put pressure on foreign companies to play catch up; however in reality you could say that State owned companies contributing to State-managed NGOs (like China Red Cross) is like the left hand giving to the right hand.
CCTV (China Central TV), has been providing blanket coverage of the rescue efforts. For donations CCTV recommend The Chinese Red Cross. This GONGO (Government Organised NGO) has lost the trust of the public following their online financial scandals in 2012 and reports that only 5% of donations from the 2008 quake went to those in need. Aware of credibility issues, the Jet Li Foundation was advertised on CCTV as an alternative destination for donations. This looked like a preferable trustworthy option, but in reality Charitarian have been informed that donations to the Jet Li Foundation have merely been redirected to the Chinese Red Cross in this case.
Minds not Mortar
To avoid the issue of choosing between NGOs, Charitarian looked at how it can extend its own NGO program – Equal Education for Everyone – to include children from the quake affected region. For the past three years we have run this program in conjunction with Nord Anglia enabling teachers from rural provinces to spend ten days of cultural exchange in Beijing. We are now looking at ways to adapt and scale up the program to include children from Lushan, so that they can have a much needed break from the depressing scenes at home. This is a small contribution to the long term recovery of the region but the sort of sustainable solution which will have lasting impact. Also we can directly monitor the use of our funds.
This earthquake is different. In 2008, Sichuan looked devastated and the rescue workers unprepared. In 2013, the quake is smaller and the rescue teams more professional. The Government will cover the costs of the immediate aftermath of the quake. Companies should focus their efforts on the long term repair of hearts and minds; not just bricks and mortar.