People's Republic of China: Providing emergency response to Sichuan earthquake - Technical assistance consultant's reports

Originally published
View original



The Technical Assistance Project (TA-7081-PRC): Providing Emergency Response to Wenchuan (Sichuan) Earthquake was initiated following a request for emergency assistance from the Government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) after a massive earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck southwest PRC on 12th May 2008. The Wenchuan Earthquake caused extensive damage and heavy losses in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces, as well as causing some damage and losses in another seven provinces. The total amount of direct economic losses caused by the earthquake are estimated at RMB852,309 million, and losses in Sichuan, Shanxi and Gansu Provinces alone are estimated to be RMB845,136 million, making up to 99.16% of the total.

The TA was undertaken three months after the earthquake occurred and approximately two months after the cessation of emergency response activities. TA activities were therefore taking place in parallel with the first stages of the long-term relief, recovery and reconstruction activities in the earthquake-affected region. The TA was implemented with the PRC in order to conduct a holistic DANA study of the region affected, as a contribution to the overall planning of the rehabilitation process. The TA was carried out with the close co-operation of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), the Executing Agency of the TA.

TA activities began with the preparation of an inception report. This provided details of the range of natural disasters suffered by China and documented the national statistics on disaster losses, which show that the impact of disasters has rapidly increased from average annual disaster losses of RMB47.6 billion in the 1950s to over RMB172.4 billion in the 1990s. Significantly, the impact is continuing to grow and the average annual disaster loss has now reached RMB203.4 billion. Along with this increase in annual losses, disasters in China have become more comprehensive, serious and multi-level. Major influences such as global warming and climate change, socio-economic activities, changes in the ecological environment and the development of urbanization are all contributing to this trend.

Additionally, the inception process studied China's current capabilities for managing disaster risk. A key finding concerned the need for a powerful focal point to ensure that all aspects of disaster risk management are carried out effectively. The report highlights the fact that the Chinese government does not have a stand-alone disaster risk management agency with a dedicated disaster risk management function, and points out that this is a major obstacle to achieving further progress in disaster risk management. Currently, disaster risk management activities consist of conducting research on policy measures in disaster reduction, expanding disaster reduction planning, improving disaster response and relief, enhancing cooperation with the international community and further strengthening public awareness and education in disaster prevention and mitigation. While these are all essential activities, they are not sufficient to constitute a total disaster risk management approach. A greater range of better coordinated disaster risk management activities is needed to effectively reduce the impact of disasters in the long term.

The general disaster response management system in China places the responsibility for overall decision making with the central government, and at local levels, chief executives have major responsibilities, while departments collaborate under the coordination and guidance of the government. A new overarching disaster risk management authority would enhance this structure by introducing key targeted initiatives and ensuring that all aspects of disaster risk management, including risk reduction activities, were carried out to agreed standards.

As further background to the TA, the inception report described the response, actions and activities undertaken by the central government, provincial governments, local governments, society and the international community in dealing with the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake.

Component 1 of the TA then went on to describe a number of measures which should be taken to improve the existing disaster risk management capability in China. The government across all sectors currently performs, and should continue to perform, a vital role in disaster response and relief. However, this section of the TA highlights the need to do more than this. The current capability is necessary and generally well-performed, but it is not enough if the losses from disasters are to be reduced to more reasonable levels.

The study also shows that the Chinese government possesses a powerful administrative network which delivers efficient and effective response and relief, and which could readily be adapted and strengthened in order to address disaster risk reduction and other key requirements more effectively. Accordingly, several recommendations are made by the TA team to address these needs, including a recommendation to establish a National Disaster Management Authorized Agency (NDMAA) with sufficient power at national, provincial and local levels to lead a process of comprehensive disaster risk reduction.

The TA addressed the objectives of Component 2 by studying the current Disaster Damage and Needs Assessment System in China. China has not yet developed a national standard needs assessment process, although many of the aspects which would be required in such a system are already in place. For example, the report lists the main government agencies which have responsibilities in Disaster Damage Assessment, and documents what was achieved in the assessments undertaken after the Wenchuan earthquake. The International Consultant and the National Consultants made visits to the affected area and reviewed the various damage and needs assessments which were conducted after the earthquake. Qualitative methods similar to those used for reviewing current disaster risk management capabilities were applied, supplemented by appropriate quantitative methods. The framework for assessing damage and losses by main sectors, as developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), was used in the compilation of observations on the damage and needs assessment process used.

It is noted in the report that GOC conducted a scope and severity assessment on the Wenchuan earthquake which was based on average seismic intensity, the death toll, the number of collapsed houses, secondary earthquake disasters, number of evacuated persons and the extent of the population relocation which took place. The assessment was conducted by developing a comprehensive disaster index. The consultants used this assessment as an important reference in their work on the overall damage and needs assessment for the earthquake.

Assessments in the different sectors were made by the TA team using the data available, and these have been documented in the report. The main sectors assessed were the social sector, the infrastructure sector and the productive sector. A cross-sectoral assessment was also conducted which looked at cultural heritage and land, mineral and natural resources.

The assessments show the damage and loss to be astonishingly large. Overall, the direct economic losses amounted to a total of over RMB845,136 million in the three most affected provinces, with most losses being suffered in the social sector and the least in the cross-sectoral areas. An examination of the number of facilities that were damaged or destroyed provides a sense of the scale of the event. A total of 13,616 educational institutions were fully or partially damaged in the earthquake affected areas, resulting in a total value of losses of RMB4,676 million. At least 18,834 health care facilities were damaged or destroyed and the total value of losses in the health and nutrition sector was estimated to be RMB2,558 million in the three provinces affected by the Wenchuan Earthquake. In Sichuan Province, 1,126 cultural museums, 38 libraries, and 147 theaters were damaged by the earthquake. The total losses of cultural facilities were estimated to be RMB2,724 million in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces. The losses of government facilities alone accounted for RMB5,357 million, with the majority of these losses occurring in Sichuan province.

The major findings in relation to the damage and needs assessment include the need to develop a national integrated system for damage and needs assessment, along with a comprehensive program to build the human resources necessary to operate it. It is also necessary to incorporate international standards where appropriate and include arrangements for measuring and analysing indirect losses in the damage and needs assessment system. This is a major finding of the TA, and urgent and comprehensive action is required to address the issue.

In relation to reconstruction funding resources the TA found that there is an overall lack of funding. The extent of reconstruction and restoration needed is currently beyond the financial resources available to the responsible agencies, organisations and individuals. The financial shortages mean that some areas are not receiving anywhere near the amount of assistance they need, which is creating a growing amount of hardship in the communities involved. Further delays in providing the necessary finance will only increase the hardship being suffered.

Based on these findings, the TA consultants recommend that priority grant support should be directed towards the development of a national standard damage and needs assessment system, national damage and needs assessment training and the development of a baseline data base to support disaster response and relief activities in the future. The TA consultants also recommend grant support for the creation of job opportunities for those who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the earthquake.

In terms of loan support, the TA consultants recommend that priority actions should focus on the building of public facilities in rural areas, and the provision of additional assistance to the counties and cities which have suffered damage in the earthquake, but which were not affected enough to be eligible for the direct support scheme initiated by the Government.

Overall, the main lessons learned from this disaster suggest that the development of the prevention, mitigation and preparedness aspects of the current disaster risk management capability needs to become a prime focus of the government. This can be readily accomplished when a Total Disaster Risk Management approach is adopted. There is much to be done: a national disaster management authorized agency should be established with sufficient power to target all hazards and disasters and implement comprehensive management strategies through the use of a total disaster risk management approach; a comprehensive disaster risk management law should be introduced; a single information coordination platform should be created to operate as the government disaster information centre during disasters; disaster risk reduction measures need to be integrated into social and economic development planning; disaster-resilient building design and construction needs to be introduced and enforced; the management of donations should be improved; NGO capabilities in disaster risk management need to be strengthened and disaster risk management volunteers need to be organized and trained; the provision of psychological support services and interventions to affected people needs to be better regulated; community based rescue teams need to be created; strict planning controls for the process of reconstruction should be introduced and a unified national damage and needs assessment system should be developed.

These lessons were supported by the lessons learned from the Tangshan earthquake of 1976. The TA team visited Tangshan in order to determine the key lessons from that event, and to provide an historical perspective to the TA findings. They found the key lessons from this earthquake included the fact that 97.24 % of residential buildings collapsed, and all public buildings, facilities and infrastructure were fully destroyed during the Tangshan earthquake due mainly to poor construction standards. They also found that disaster management efforts lacked some effectiveness, as there had not been any preparedness or coordination practice among the relevant departments and agencies; reconstruction planning did not fully consider the selection of a location for the new city; the layout of the new city was not completely planned, and did not include long-term development considerations; authorities did not anticipate the growth trends which would impact on the city, and the subsequent quick urbanization has been in excess of the growth capacity of the city; and the authorities now recognize that they should have kept an example earthquake damaged area as a resource for earthquake science or a study base, or to be available for use as a tourist venue.

The TA found that the Chinese Government responded strongly and effectively to the problems caused by the Wenchuan earthquake. The response and relief efforts, however, were hampered by the sheer scale of the event. Millions of people have been affected, hundreds of thousands of buildings and facilities have been lost, and a vast range of other impacts have been suffered. The scale of the event was not anticipated by the preparedness measures which were in place, and this led to the whole response and relief system coming under severe pressure. A number of gaps then became evident despite the excellent efforts of the Government and other agencies in providing immediate response and relief interventions. Foremost of these is the absence of any comprehensive risk reduction programs, the lack of an overall authority for disaster risk management and the lack of a unified all-inclusive damage and needs assessment system.

If an appropriate authority and the necessary risk reduction programs had been in place beforehand the scale of the event would have been significantly less, and therefore proportionally more manageable. Other measures which could have reduced the impact of the event have been documented in this report, and have been recommended for adoption as a means to reduce the impact of future events. This TA report highlights the need for these measures, and provides the information necessary to formulate and resource the programs necessary for their implementation.

Asian Development Bank
© Asian Development Bank