13 May, 2009

Sichuan - One Year Later

The World Bank blogged about Sichuan one year after the earthquake that killed close to 70,000 people.

Even with all the pain and devastation of a year ago, hope is returning slowly to the region:
We have heard many stories of tragedy during the last year. But we have also seen the signs of recovery and hope. When we drive in the earthquake area today, we see people at work building new houses. We see hospitals and schools providing education and healthcare in temporary facilities. We see children playing jump rope, mothers and babies sitting together in the sun, and old men playing mahjong with fierce concentration. Food is available in market stalls, and banks and barber shops have mushroomed everywhere. Whereas 11 months ago, when I first visited the area, I saw people sitting aimlessly in tents, now I see a vibrant community being restored. In June 2008, I didn't recognize what I saw as being China, but now I do, because now I see the resilience of the Chinese people and I see hope returning.

The totally botched response of the Chinese government reminds many of the days after Hurricane Katrina - though there is one very key difference: those disgruntled with our government were allowed to speak. As The Telegraph reports, that is not the case in China.

In an attempt to silence protests (over the lack of investigations into why the school fell so easily), some parents have been detained in so-called 'black jails', or unofficial prisons, for up to 21 days. Now, though, they have been threatened with longer jail terms if they attempt to commemorate their children.

"The police visited me earlier this week and said that if we stage a memorial, then we won't just be temporarily detained, but we might go to prison for a few years," said Luo Guoming.

The Chinese culture, for more reasons than I will go into here - baffles me. I often wonder if the earthquake hadn't happened in the midst of Olympic hysteria and so shortly after the cyclone in Burma, if the world would have known about it at all. Was the superficial aid and care and promises of investigations into faulty schools and decrepit buildings more for our show than for the people who lost their children?

I will admit I have never been there and have a very Western view of China. Still, I have to ask: what are they afraid of? They always react in ways that keep people from pulling back the curtain and seeing the wizard. It's as if the government stands on a foundation that resembles the emperor's clothes. And even if their duplicity is called out they will try to convince everyone that the truth is the lie.

And yet how much of our future is tied to this house of cards?

Mara is a bit more optimist than me:

Today, the Chinese Government has declared May 12 as "Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day". This is a great step to raise awareness in China of the continued dangers that the country faces from natural disasters and to educate the Chinese people that the reduction and prevention of future disasters is equally important as rebuilding. I am very optimistic that the tragedy of the Wenchuan Earthquake will become a turning point for China to move toward a more resilient future.