China

Disasters of the Past Linger into Chinese New Year

Source
Posted
Originally published
Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
On Jan. 14, two quakes rocked southwestern China, leaving at least five people dead, more than 1,500 injured and 120,000 homeless. Now, as the Chinese Lunar New Year approaches, aftershocks continue and thousands remain in desperate need of shelter, food and warm clothing. In a country that has been plagued by multiple natural disasters in the past year, many will greet the Chinese New Year on Feb. 5 without life's most basic necessities.

China suffered a series of devastating natural disasters last year that disrupted the lives of millions of people. Some still live in makeshift shelters after flooding along the Yangtze River killed 800 people and forced 5.5 million to evacuate their homes last summer. Others suffer from a drought that has continued for 220 days, leaving some 3.5 million farmers and herders without food or a means to earn a living. And the latest disaster, the recent earthquakes, have forced thousands more to live in flimsy tents for the winter.

While an early warning system saved many lives, the twin quakes have added tremendous strains on government and relief agencies already struggling to care for millions of homeless and hungry disaster victims of droughts and floods.

The magnitude 5.9 and 6.5 quakes ravaged mountainous counties in the southwest province of Yunnan, destroying homes in some of the poorest and coldest areas in China. "Over 120,000 people in three provinces are homeless in the bitter Chinese winter," an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report stated. Survivors eat rice salvaged from the ruins or donated food. The homeless, mostly farmers, have made tents of straw and plastic, which do little to block the strong mountainous wind or to protect them from frigid temperatures, snow and rain.

The IFRC has issued an international appeal for 2.8 million Swiss francs (about $1.7 million) to assist 80,000 of the victims. The money will be used to distribute food, blankets, warm clothing and other relief items over the next three months. Other relief agencies have appealed for donations to help quake victims survive the harsh conditions. The provincial government has allocated 1 million Chinese yuan (about $121,000) in relief funds and local governments have sent tents, clothing and other supplies to the disaster zone.

But freezing temperatures in the mountains have hampered relief efforts. Roads blocked by ice and snow have prevented convoys of supplies from reaching the remote counties of Mile and Qiubei, two of the worst hit areas. "Temperatures during the night drop to almost zero, making it difficult for relief workers to reach some quake-hit areas," a Mile country official told the Xinhua News Agency.

Throughout the country, recent disasters already have left more homeless and hungry survivors than the government and relief agencies can handle. In the northwestern province of Qinghai, more than 3.5 million farmers and herders have been unable to feed themselves after summer flooding and a lingering drought ruined their crops. Since the drought, which began last spring, farmers watched helplessly as more than 1 million livestock dropped dead from starvation and dehydration and as hundreds of thousands of acres of grain withered away.

Heavy rains suspended the drought only to trigger yet another disaster in the region. Two months of summer flooding caused at least 60 deaths and ruined more than 1 million acres of crops. Economic losses in the region due to the double disasters have exceeded 1.13 billion yuan (about $135 million).

Elsewhere, the annual floods along the Yangtze River in central and southern China forced tens of thousands of people who are too poor to rebuild to spend the winter in tents or old abandoned buildings. "Those who have suffered the most severe losses are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty: Because they have lost their crops year after year they cannot provide any guarantees of repayment and are thus not eligible for government loans," the Red Cross said in a statement. The floods lasted from June to September and left 800 people dead, 24,000 injured and 5.5 million homeless. Although not as severe as the floods of 1998, when 4,100 people died and millions were left homeless, the 1999 disaster hit some of the country's poorest villages.

The lunar year 4698, "The Year of the Dragon," gives the Chinese a chance to renew their fortune. Many will follow ancient superstitions and annual rituals for a New Year. On the first day of the year, on Feb. 5, they will not wash their hair, or they'd risk washing their luck away. Some won't even use knifes for fear of slicing into their fortunes.

Every year, floods continue the cycle of poverty along the Yangtze River. But the Chinese also realize that they can't tame the dragon, the zodiac symbol that represents the coming year. According to Chinese superstitions, next year's is an "angry" dragon, and so there is a need to be cautious. Dragons are by nature animals of great power, and an Angry Dragon year will most likely lead to some volatile situations, possibly in the form of more natural disasters, the Chinese fear.

As aftershocks continue to rumble through the quake-ravaged region of Yunnan, the Chinese probably can't help but wonder if the dragon is sending out a warning. Most recently, a magnitude 5.5 aftershock rattled the area, injuring two people and damaging more than 2,000 houses and roads. And some people worry that a bigger one is yet to come. The seismic belt beneath Yunnan is in its fourth cycle of quakes since 1988 when a 7.8 magnitude temblor jolted the cities of Lancang and Gengma, Yan Fengtong, director of the Yunnan Seismological Bureau told Xinhua.

But seismologists say that the frequent quakes are to be expected in the region, and don't necessarily mean that a major temblor is on the way. Since 1949, twelve quakes with a magnitude 6 or above have struck the area, seismologists say. Quakes also rarely cause many deaths in the area due to the sparse population and preparedness of the people, experts say. "Earthquakes are actually not uncommon here, and it would be irresponsible to come to a hasty conclusion that there will be a disastrous one in the province later," Fengtong said.

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

----

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

=A9 Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.