China: Earthquakes Appeal No. 02/2000



A series of earthquakes struck different provinces of China in late 1999 and in January this year. The most serious occurred in Yunnan Province in mid January. The others, in Liaoning and Shanxi Province, while not causing the same levels of destruction as the Yunnan quake, nevertheless affected close to 180,000 people and left over 40,000 homeless. Through this Appeal the International Federation, in conjunction with the Red Cross Society of China, intends to provide essential relief assistance to the worst hit counties in all three of the affected areas for a period of three months.

The Disasters


At 6.06 am and 07.37 a.m. on 15 January, two earthquakes measuring respectively 6.0 and 6.5 on the Richter scale hit the county of Yao'an in the Province of Yunnan in south west China. Yunnan, east of the Tibetan Plateau, borders on Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. It is situated along a geographical fault that runs south into Laos and Vietnam and is susceptible to violent earthquakes. The Yunnan State Seismological Bureau recorded aftershocks measuring up to 4.0 in magnitude the area in the days following the first tremors.

According to initial reports from the Yunnan Branch of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), the worst affected areas were in the neighbouring counties of Yao'an, which has a population of 20,000 to 30,000, and Dayao, both located some 160 kms from the provincial capital of Kunming. In total, 7 counties in 2 prefectures containing contain 74 townships were affected.

According to the latest information the earthquake left five dead and 1,272 injured, of whom. 29 are reported to be in serious condition. The low casualty figure has been attributed to a number of factors:

  • The mountainous area where the epicentre of the earthquake was located is sparsely populated.
  • Information from the Seismological Monitoring stations enabled the authorities to give advance warning of the earthquake, allowing residents to evacuate their homes prior the first quake, and so avoid injury when the main quake struck an hour and a half later.

Latest reports from the Red Cross disaster assessment puts the total number of damaged rooms at 311,349, with a further 38,800 collapsed. The number of homeless is estimated at 122,000. Because so many homes are damaged, many victims are afraid of moving back into them and are living in the open in makeshift shelters. Night time temperatures in this mountainous area are currently around minus 5 - 6 degrees Celsius and around 18 or 19 degrees during the day.


At 12.10 pm on 29 November, 1999 an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale struck Haicheng and Xiuyan counties in Anshan Prefecture, Liaoning Province. This quake was followed by another, which measured 5.1, on 12 January. This second quake added to the damage caused by the earlier one. A total of 11 villages were affected.

In its latest reports, the Red Cross Society of China puts the total number of injuries at 28, with no fatalities.


On 1 November, 1999, two separate quakes measuring 4.8 and 5.6 on the Richter scale struck Datong City in Shanxi Province. No deaths and only five injuries were reported, although 20,000 people in five counties were made homeless.

The Response so far

Government Action

The Chinese government agencies, including the military and civil authorities, have carried out rescue and relief efforts in all the affected areas, with the support of the Red Cross and some NGOs. The Ministry of Civil Affairs is co-ordinating all these activities and the relief distributions. While the central government has not asked the United Nations for assistance at this time, discussions are ongoing to involve an UNDAC team in an assessment mission.

In Yunnan the local authorities have to date allocated a total of 28 million yuan (approximately CHF 5 million) for the relief efforts. They initially released 500 tents and quantities of building materials for temporary shelters. Further supplies of tents are being transferred from Guangxi and Hunan.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action

From the start of the emergency the RCSC's Provincial branches have been working with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in support of the combined relief efforts.

Access to the region is expected to be less complicated than after previous earthquakes, due to the reasonably good roads linking the area to Kunming in the east.

The Provincial Red Cross is known for its resourcefulness and efficiency in dealing with such emergencies. Parts of Yunnan have been heavily damaged by severe earthquakes in the past, most recently in February 1996 and November 1998. The branch joined forces with the local Health Department to send two medical teams to the earthquake zone. The majority of the injured are being cared for in the local county hospitals. The Federation has released CHF 300,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to cover the cost of procuring 20'000 quilts.

Other Agencies' Action

In Yunnan, additional assistance has been received from NGOs such as Oxfam, Hong Kong, which has donated tents, quilts, blankets and plastic sheeting for 440 households in three isolated villages.


The Red Cross provincial branches in all the affected areas have all started raising funds and collecting donations of clothing, blankets and tents.

Initial Response

The Yunnan branch has already sent relief goods valued at CNY 210,000 (CHF 40,000), including food, tents and a small amount of medicines. The Hong Kong Branch has responded by providing 200,000 Hong Kong Dollars (CHF 41,000) which will allow the Yunnan Branch to purchase 20 Mts. of rice, 1,000 quilts, 1,000 coats and 30 tents. The Headquarters of the RCSC has authorised the release of 100 tents from its Disaster Preparedness Centre (DPC) in the neighbouring Province of Sichuan.

In Liaoning, the local branch has raised CNY 170,000 (CHF 32,700 )from its branches in the province, to help provide quilts, warm clothes and medicines. An additional CNY 100,000 (CHF 20,000) has been provided by the HQ of the RCSC to procure additional supplies.

The Shanxi Provincial Branch has also received CNY 100,000 (CHF 20,000) from the RCSC HQ to buy emergency supplies of corn flour, the local staple, A small amount of quilts and coats had already been provided.


The International Federation delegation in Beijing has organised regular co-ordination meetings with the Relief Department of the RCSC in order to collate disaster reports received by the three affected provinces. In addition, Federation delegates are in contact with the UNDMT (United Nations Disaster Management Team) and international humanitarian organisations.

The Intended Operation

Assessment of Needs

On 15 January, the Red Cross Secretary General of Yunnan Province accompanied an assessment team to the area. Her initial findings were reported to the RCSC National Headquarters on 17 January. Further RCSC assessment reports from Shanxi and Liaoning Provinces have been used in formulating this Appeal and the Plans of Action.

Follow up assessment missions, due to take place in the next few days, will ensure that the Federation is focusing its attention on the worst affected provinces, and that the mix of relief items is correct.


The Provincial Red Cross branches are now planning how best to cover the needs of the affected population within their areas of responsibility, based on the levels of response to their domestic fund raising activities and external donations. Planning of food and non food distributions will take into account the following three points:

  • The severity of the disaster in specific areas.
  • The capacity of the affected population to recover from the disaster.
  • The capacity of the local Prefecture and County Branches in the Provinces to efficiently manage and monitor the distribution of the supplies issued to them.

Red Cross Objectives

  • To ensure the rapid mobilisation of funds and goods in order to provide immediate assistance;
  • To target a total of 50,000 victims in Yunnan, Liaoning and Shanxi. The total homeless population in these three provinces is over 160,000. The Federation's appeal therefore targets approximately 30% of the homeless;
  • To provide to 50,000 people with a complementary food (bulk rice) ration equivalent to 1,660 Kcal per day, for 90 days;
  • To provide quilts to 40,000 victims (each quilt being adequate for two people);
  • To provide warm clothing for 40,000 people.

Immediate Needs

Food: The plight of the victims in Yunnan province is particularly serious, since floods in the province in 1999 caused crop losses and additional hardship in this traditionally poor area. The Red Cross will supply 2,250 MT of rice to support over 50,000 victims for 90 days.

Clothing and Quilts: To provide 40,000 quilts (one for two persons) for 80,000 victims, and one heavy winter coat each for a total of 40,000 victims. The provision of quilts and warm clothing is seen as essential, given the freezing temperatures in all of the areas and the fact that most of the victims are living in the open.

Anticipated Later Needs

This appeal is based on the most recent information about the affected population provided by the Provincial Red Cross. However, the Federation will continue to monitor the situation and may extend the scope of the appeal at a later date.

National Society/Federation Plan of Action

Phase 1: Early February 2000

The Federation and RCSC will use current disaster preparedness stocks to help alleviate the worst suffering, prior to the mobilisation of international funding.

Phase 2: Mid February - March 2000

Further plans of action, using funds mobilised by this appeal, will be developed to ensure basic relief supplies -- food, clothing, cooking sets and quilts -- are delivered to the worst affected areas.

Following the system successfully used in previous operations, these plans of action will match available resources with the specific needs at the time such funds arrive in China. This allows the RCSC and Federation delegation to fine-tune the delivery of relief items to where they are most needed.

Capacity of the National Society

The RCSC has an extensive, nation-wide network of 153,000 grassroots volunteer groups, 2,562 county and district branches, 347 prefecture branches and 31 provincial (or autonomous regional) branches. With almost 23 million members, it is by far the largest National Society in the world. An external review commissioned by the Federation earlier this year found "the Red Cross movement (in China) was unique in that it was the only international institution having a network which covered all levels from beneficiary to international donor and which in the early stages of the disaster had sole access to affected areas."

The RCSC has extensive experience in relief operations. Operational procedures are in line with those required by international donors. Reflecting the decentralised approach, the Provincial Red Cross units have excellent working relations with the local authorities.

Apart from the assistance given through the International Federation's appeal, the National Society is expected to receive additional assistance from its branches such as Hong Kong. Careful co-ordination will ensure that this assistance does not duplicate relief inputs by the Federation.

Present Capacity of the Federation in China

The China delegation currently comprises three delegates: one Acting Representative who will manage all Federation aspects of the current relief operation, one Finance Reporting Delegate and one Field Delegate. The Field Delegate will be tasked with monitoring and reporting on this appeal. It is anticipated that the delegation will soon be further strengthened, with an additional delegate.

The delegation receives support from the Regional Information and Finance Delegates based in the Federation's Southeast Asia Regional Delegation in Kuala Lumpur.

Logistics and Procurement

Past experience and practice have shown that all the required material can be procured locally in the affected provinces. Whenever possible, relief goods will be purchased close to the disaster sites, to allow speedier distributions and savings in transport costs.

Monitoring and Reporting

The RCSC/Federation will carry out a series of joint monitoring visits during the course of the operation. Mission reports from these visits will form the basis of regular Situation Reports.

Budget summary

See Annex 1 for details.


This Appeal provides a flexible framework within which the Red Cross Society of China can respond effectively to the needs of the victims of these three serious earthquakes. Although the media only focused on the main disaster in Yunnan, this appeal seeks to provide immediate assistance not only to victims in Yunnan, but also to those affected by the two other, less publicised, disasters in Liaoning and Shanxi, where winter temperatures are even more severe than in Yunnan.

Didier Cherpitel
Secretary General

Margareta Wahlström
Under Secretary General,
Disaster Response & Operations Coordination

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