China: Oxfam HK response to earthquake in Xinjiang update 25 Feb 2003

An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale occurred yesterday, 24 February, at 10:03am at the border of Jiashi and Bachu counties, located in Kashi Prefecture of western Xinjiang Province, near the Chinese - Kyrgyzstan border. According to reports received up to last night, the death toll has reached more than 260 people, and is still rising. More than 2,000 people are injured. It is estimated that the earthquake has also destroyed the homes of more than 8,800 families. The official China News Agency, Xinhua, also said tremors were felt in Kashgar, the most populous city in the area.
Aftershocks of up to a magnitude of 4.5 have been recorded in various areas.

According to Sohu News, Vice Secretary of State Wen Jiabao has already made emergency orders to send troops and teams to deliver emergency relief in affected areas. Government departments are now distributing relief items, hoping to take care of people's needs in the cold nights. Some 1,500 soldiers have initially been mobilised for rescue work, and have started to distribute some 6,000 tents.

There were reports of a mild earthquake of magnitude 3.7 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 have been a precursor of the powerful quake in Jiashi.

Xinjiang is an area that is vulnerable to earthquakes. On 5 January, 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 25 December 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 is heading for Xinjiang, where they will proceed to the affected counties. Oxfam has initially earmarked HKD200,000 (about USD 25,644.31) 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 will provide additional support when necessary.

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

  • Jiashi County has a population of 295,000, 286,00 of which are non-Han. More than 266,000 people are farmers whose major sources of income come from growing cotton, melons and herbs. The climate is temperate continental, meaning that winter weather can be very cold.
  • Bachu County has a population of 242,000, of which 229,000 are ethnic minorities. More than 191,000 people are farmers. Bachu boasts a rich range of natural resources, including cotton, forests, hemp/linen, herbs and mushrooms. It is also an important gateway for transportation to southern Xinjiang, with both the Nanjiang Railway and the National Highway 314 going through the county capital, which suffered only minor impacts from the earthquake.

It should be noted that both counties have large ethnic minority populations - people who are not affected by the 'One-Child' policies in China. The counties have a natural population increase of more than 13% per annum. This implies that the counties could have a high infant and children population. Children and infants constitute a vulnerable group in emergency situations and extra measures must be taken for protection of their lives and health.

Prepared by Arnold Fang
Programme Officer for Disaster Management in China
Oxfam Hong Kong