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On China visit, UN official assesses post-quake reconstruction efforts

On China visit, UN official assesses post-quake reconstruction efforts

Searching for survivors in the aftermath of the devasting earthquake in China (16 May 2008)
The head of the United Nations agency tasked with promoting adequate shelter for all has pledged support for recovery and reconstruction efforts in China’s Sichuan province, which is rebuilding after a devastating earthquake, during a three-day visit to the area.

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), last week visited two of the towns hit hardest by the 12 May quake, which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale. The quake killed about 69,200 people and left some 4.8 million people homeless.

In Hanwang town, Mrs. Tibaijuka visited a turbine making factory, the main industrial operation that had to be relocated because workshops were destroyed. Most of the buildings in Hanwang town and Renhe village of Deyang City collapsed and the victims were moved into transit shelters.

During a visit to one of the temporary shelter communities, the Executive Director said she was happy that victims had been given adequate attention and commended the Chinese Government and people for taking quick action to relieve suffering, ensuring that almost all the displaced people were sheltered.

“Natural disasters cannot be stopped. What is important is to minimize the impact and build back better,” she said. “We will share our experience of working in post-disaster reconstruction in other countries such Indonesia and Pakistan.”

Mrs. Tibaijuka also visited Dujiangyan, a city with a population of 630,000, where some 80 per cent of the buildings have been condemned and people have been resettled temporarily in transit shelters.

In Anhui province, she visited classrooms in schools built with prefabricated shelters, and encouraged the students to work hard and overcome the difficulties. Permanent schools there will be ready for use by September 1, 2009.

Praising the work done in Dujiangyan City, the Executive Director invited the city to share its experience with other cities in the Fourth Session of World Urban Forum, slated to be held in Nanjing in November.

While in Chengdu, Mrs. Tibaijuka announced that UN-HABITAT would donate $50,000 for urban planning and reconstruction and would be ready to provide further technical support to the reconstruction efforts.

In a related development, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on countries to support a campaign aimed at ensuring structural safety of hospitals to allow continuous services in times of disaster.

“Hospitals Safe from Disasters: Reduce Risk, Protect Health Facilities, Save Lives,” seeks to raise awareness about why and how to redouble efforts to protect health facilities and staff and how hospitals can ensure their function during and in the aftermath of disasters, such as earthquakes.

According to WHO, the damages that disasters can incur to health facilities reach millions of dollars and may range from 15 per cent to 60 per cent of annual government health spending. Studies have shown that retrofitting – bracing, reinforcement or other engineering interventions – of health facilities are cost-effective and can protect up to 90 per cent of the value of the hospital.

“Preparedness and response can be reinforced so that human suffering is prevented or minimized,” said Dr. Arthur Pesigan, head of WHO Emergency and Humanitarian Action. “This can only be achieved by structures that will not collapse in disasters, with an organized contingency plan, and with a trained health workforce to continue and provide its services during critical situations.”