China: Oxfam HK response to earthquake in Xinjiang

News and Press Release
Originally published
An earthquake of Richter Scale 6.8 has occurred yesterday 24 February at 10:03am at the border of the Jiashi and Bachu Counties, located in the Kashi Prefecture of western Xinjiang Province, near the Chinese - Kyrgyzstan border.
According to reports received by last night, death tolls have reached 260 and are still rising. The earthquake has left more than 2000 injured in the region, with more than 3,000 buildings lost. An estimated 8,800 families have lost their homes. The official China News Agency Xinhua also said tremors were felt in Kashgar, the most populous city in the area, though it didn't give details of any damage there. Aftershocks of up to magnitude 4.5 have been recorded in various areas after the earthquake has hit. According to Sohu News, Vice Secretary of State Wen Jiabao has already made emergency orders to send troops and teams to areas struck by the earthquake for emergency relief. Government departments are now distributing relief items to victims, hoping to settle them for the night. Some 1,500 soldiers have initially been mobilised for rescue work, and had started to distribute some 6,000 tents.

There were reports that a mild earthquake of magnitude 3.7 was also recorded yesterday morning in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, three hours prior to the earthquake in Jiashi. While the two earthquakes may have no relationship at all, the Urumqi earthquake could well be a prologue of the powerful quake in Jiashi. Xinjiang is an area that is vulnerable to earthquakes. On January 5 a quake of magnitude 5.4 struck Jiashi County, exactly 10 kilometers west of the epicenter of the current earthquake; but no deaths or injuries were reported. On December 25 2002 another quake of magnitude 5.7 struck another part of western Xinjiang near the Afghan border. Some buildings were damaged but no injuries or deaths were reported.

An Oxfam Hong Kong team composed of staff, partners and volunteers from Hong Kong and Kunming will be arriving in the Xinjiang tomorrow (26 February), where they will proceed to the affected counties. Oxfam has initially earmarked HKD200,000 for this emergency response.

Oxfam staff is in contact with representatives of the Xinjiang Civil Affairs Bureau that will assist in identifying the worst hit-areas and provide emergency relief distribution that would most likely include food, clothing and shelter materials. The team will further appraise gaps in the emergency response of affected communities, and would provide additional support when necessary.

The following information about the communities were cited from government sources:

Jiashi County has a population of 295000, of which only less than 9000 are Hans. More than 266,000 people are peasants, with major sources of income being cotton, melons and herbs. The climate of the county is temperate continental, which means that winter weather can be very cold. Bachu County has a population of 242000, of which 229000 are ethnic minorities. More than 191,000 people are peasants. Bachu boasts a rich range of natural resources, including cotton, forests, hemp/linen, herbs and mushrooms. It is also an important gateway for transportation southern Xinjiang, with both the Nanjiang Railway and the National Highway 314 going through the county capital. The county capital, is reported to only have suffered minor impacts due to the earthquake. It should be noted that both counties have high ethnic minority populations who are not subject to the "One-Child" policies in China. Both counties therefore have a natural population increase of more than 13% per annum, which could imply that the counties have a high infant and children population. Children and infants constitute a vulnerable group in disasters and extra measures must be taken for protection of their lives, health and potential family loss.

Prepared by Arnold Fang, Programme Officer for Disaster Management in China, Oxfam HK