School children in Sichuan, China (photo: Flickr gill_penney)
By Chris Weeks
Bangkok, 10 May 2018 - China has transformed its approach to reducing disaster risk following the devastating Sichuan earthquake ten years ago, with citizens including school children more protected and prepared than ever.
The 7.9 magnitude quake hit the county of Wenchuan on 12th May 2008, leaving nearly 90,000 dead or missing, hundreds of thousands injured and millions affected.
The death toll included up to 10,000 children, who were killed when their schools collapsed – prompting public outrage, with critics coining the term “tofu schools” referring to their flimsy construction.
However, a decade since the disaster, the country has made huge strides with strictly-enforced construction standards, school safety management manuals, checklists to regularly asses risk, and school drills to practice emergency preparedness plans. The country is also embracing the latest technology to monitor hazards.
Loretta Hieber Girardet, Asia-Pacific Chief for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said: “Out of the Sichuan tragedy has come huge progress. I recently visited China’s National Disaster Management Centre, and saw how teams are working round the clock to monitor hazards with the latest technology including satellites.
“Combined with strictly-enforced regulations, risk assessments and building codes, it’s clear that China has transformed its approach to disaster risk reduction – particularly for school children, who are among the most vulnerable when an earthquake strikes.”
The Sichuan earthquake prompted authorities in China to invest in dedicated satellites to improve prediction capacities and early warning systems for disaster management. Meanwhile, the country has also committed to limit economic losses from disasters to within 1.3 percent of GDP. Over the next five years, China will also spend more than 200 million yuan (more than US$31million) in seismological technology research.
Annual assessments are carried out during the flood-season under the guidance of local government, particularly on landslide, mudslide and flood risks. School furnishings and equipment are also designed and installed to lessen the harm they might cause during an earthquake.
China is the most earthquake-prone country in Asia. Over the past 50 years, the nation has experienced an average of three earthquakes per year which have been serious enough to prove fatal or affect hundreds of people. These seismic events have resulted in a total of 380,000 deaths, averaging over 7,500 per year, with a total of 76million people affected. In the future, the average annual loss due to earthquakes in China is predicted to be US$7billion.
The 2008 Sichuan quake was the deadliest in China since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake which killed at least 240,000 people, and the strongest since the Chayu earthquake in 1950. In recent years, around 20 people were killed and more than 500 injured in the 2017 Jiuzhaigou earthquake, again in the Sichuan Province; and more than 600 lives were claimed in the 2014 Ludian quake.
For more information on UNISDR’s Worldwide Initiative for Safe schools visit: www.unisdr.org/we/campaign/wiss