Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reflections on the Earthquake

I have been in Bangkok for 2 days at a Plan regional meeting, and was on the way there as the Earthquake struck. My colleagues at the meeting are highly experienced in disaster relief, unfortunately, due to our projects in Pakistan and Tsunami affected areas. Plan China's work has not been too badly affected, though hundreds of houses and tens of schools in the villages we work, about 400km from the epicentre were damaged.

Now, we must decide what we will do in response, since we have no experience in disaster relief in China, nor do we work in the areas directly affected. However, as Plan and others recognise, after the first 2 weeks of rescuing survivors, comes the incredibly hard job of rebuilding villages, schools, communities, water systems, food supplies, livelihoods and so on.

In these areas, Plan China does have expertise, and if we couple this with the expertise from our Asian colleagues in child-centred disaster relief planning participation, socio-emotional support programs and the other programs. We have a number of reports on what we did well and what we did badly in the Tsunami affected areas especially, so we will have to see what Plan China decides to do.

As terrible as the earthquake has been, the western media is now starting to focus on the wider impacts on China and, possibly, some silver linings. Money is not the problem -the government does not lack money, and neither do many of its middle/upper class citizens and Chinese/Foreign businesses -all of whom who are donating spectacular amounts. What is the problem is managing and coordinating the resources, departments and organisations involved.

What the disaster might lead to is a more free media, a greater focus on preventing disasters, less attention on the Tibet/Olympics issue and, most importantly, an opportunity. An opportunity to rebuild communities, that were already quite poor, with a focus on the elderly, women or children; an opportunity to ensure a corruption-free rebuilding project where villagers get fair compensation, quality homes etc; an opportunity to make the communities better than what they were before with more attention to environmental issues for the new buildings; an opportunity for community involvement in decision making and reconstruction efforts etc.

We will have to see what happens; we can, i am sure, all hope for the best for the victims in China and those in Myanmar, whose situation is undeniably bleak in comparison to China. China is fortunate to have a relatively competent government, a wealthy government, a strong capable private sector, an open (though not free) media and the desire to do what is best for its people. If only Myanmar was the same.


At 8:48 am, Blogger Todd said...

Some people, both among my friends and in the media, are already asking how they can be sure that their donation will be used appropriately (remembering the "Project Hope" debacle from years ago). If there is enough pressure on agencies such as the China Red Cross to make the use of funds more transparent and publicly accountable, then it could be a very positive trend for charitable giving in China. Fingers crossed!


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