China: Earthquake survivors bracing for winter

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By Francis Marcus, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Beijing

The first thing you notice after climbing the slight incline to Liang Tiancheng's farmhouse is the rich golden color of hundreds of maize cobs hanging outside to dry.

The second thing you see, under various layers of tarpaulin and sheeting, is the Red Cross tent that has been the temporary home of Mr. Liang, 65, and his wife Wu Xianzhen, 61, since their house was damaged in Sichuan's massive earthquake on May 12, 2008.

Since they do not know when they will have the funds to start rebuilding their house, it looks certain that they will have to spend the winter making themselves as comfortable as they can. "We might add another layer of rice straw for extra insulation," says Mr. Liang. Unlike those who lived in shattered towns, these rural dwellers do not have access to government-built temporary shelters.

As for the eye-catching maize cobs, they tell a story too. Local people use maize both for human consumption and for pig feed.

"We lost our pigs in the earthquake, so we do not have any pigs to feed the maize to right now. However, we shall keep them for a year and use them when we have rebuilt our pigsty," says Mr. Liang, adding that rebuilding their own house will be the first priority.

Breeding pigs is one of the mainstays of the economy in Xin Kai, a small village just outside the township of Hanwang. Like many other towns, Xin Kai was badly battered by the disaster, which destroyed buildings and halted the town clock at 14:28, the time the earthquake struck.

The earthquake has caused extensive hardship for local farmers, who must face a challenging new market economy. Pork brought in from outside markets to meet consumer demand in the immediate aftermath of the quake has made it harder for local farmers to compete. Farmers complain that meat is expensive to the consumer in the market, but the price they get paid for it is disproportionately low.

However, these issues can only be concerns for the future. For now, Mr. and Mrs. Liang must focus on keeping warm throughout the winter months. To help people living in rural villages like Xin Kai, the Red Cross Society of China, with support from the International Federation and the American Red Cross, is providing quilts, insulation and other relief items in the earthquake zone before the onset of colder winter weather.

In addition, the American Red Cross recovery efforts, including the reconstruction of tens of thousands of homes, providing safe drinking water, and preparing communities for future disasters, is expected to total more than $50 million over the next three years, when combined with the money already provided for emergency relief.

Despite the onset of colder weather, the Red Cross will continue to provide aid to people like the Liangs, so that each earthquake-affected community may embark on a path to recovery.

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