24 May 2008, 00:14
by Liu Lei
Caring for the millions of homeless after the Sichuan earthquake is an urgent priority for volunteers. (L. Liu/UNV)Mian Yang, Sichuan province, China:
Five days have passed since the horrible earthquake hit Sichuan Province. By 08.10 on 19 May 2008, the death toll in Mian Yang municipality had risen to 11,874, and 67,579 people are wounded.
Guaranteeing homeless people’s health is one of the most important aspects of the aid operation, as well as providing other basic support. According to today's plan, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Chinese Red Cross are to visit the most severe disaster area at Mian Yang municipality in the mid-north of Sichuan province to make a medical assessment of the refugee camps.
We should thank the responsible and prompt operations of the Chinese Government and various NGOs, who have really contributed their utmost efforts to rescue and save people. With all the help of domestic civil society and the international community, I believe that China can stand up to this disaster and the Chinese people will recover soon.
The total area of Mian Yang municipality is 20,249 square kilometres with a population of 5,170,141. The distance between the epicentre and the urban area of the city is approximately 170 km.
The team kicks off the trip to Mian Yang city from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. The team members include six delegates of the IFRC in charge of health, disaster management, information communications, plus a doctor, the coordinator of RCSC and one UNV volunteer acting as interpreter.
The team arrives in the capital of Mian Yang municipality where the most severe disaster area is. We quickly find the integrated team for disaster relief and consult them on their recent work to support logistics, sanitation, health care, epidemic prevention and psychological help, etc.
We meet with the Deputy General Commander of the special team for disaster relief in Mian Yang municipality in order to find out what the most urgent needs of the disaster area are and what our organizations can do in both the short term and the long term. The participants include delegates of the Mian Yang governments, IFRC, the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), the Mian Yang branch of RCSC, and UNV.
After a clear discussion with the Deputy General Commander Chen Youxue and his team, we got the latest information. By now, Mian Yang municipality has the four severest suffering counties, which are Beichuan county, Pingwu county, Anxian county and Jiangyou county. It is so sad to know that some of them were destroyed completely.
Accommodation: The positive news is that local authorities have set up more than 100 resettlement sites, relocating more than 200,000 homeless people from this disaster. The biggest camp is set in the Jiu Zhou stadium where 30,000 to 40,000 refugees now stay. With so many refugees, you can imagine the pressures Government and NGOs are facing. According to the commander's list of needs, a priority is getting standard 3x4 metre tents to accommodate small groups.
Food and water: The present provisions which we supply to the refugees are mainly bottled water, instant noodles and biscuits. That is not for the long term, so we need to provide more rice, wheat and cooking oil. The Government has realized this issue and is beginning to provide improved support. The World Food Programme (WFP) is donating US$500,000 to the disaster area for emergency food supplies.
Medical: We have 38 medical teams now working in the Mian Yang disaster area, including teams from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and from elsewhere around China. But the medical logistics is still weak and all teams pretty much need more first aid medicines to sustain their rescuing work, as well as surgical equipments.
After going through the list of needs from the disaster area, the IFRC said it will try its best to give support to this area, coordinating with Red Cross organizations at all levels. With the information produced by disaster relief teams on the front line, the meeting was very fruitful and consensus was reached on different aspects.
First, tents must be found and sent to the disaster area; and then the food situation must be improved in order to meet the local requirements. Great attention should also be paid to health care and water sanitation in order to prevent epidemics of diarrhoea and other diseases.
In order to get the latest assessment of the medical and sanitation conditions at the biggest camp in the urban area of Mian Yang city, together with the Regional Health Delegate of the IFRC I go on a survey of the camp's toilet sanitation, water purification and medical treatment facilities.
After a quick investigation and interviews with refugees, we reach a general assessment that the camp has to provide at least 10 to 15 times more toilets, and quickly set up some shower facilities since we found that there isn't yet anything there for the refugees. If we don’t take better action on sanitation immediately, the aftermath will be worse.
Fortunately, the local Government has realized the urgency of the situation and some measures are being taken. But those actions need to be undertaken as soon as possible. Under current conditions, we hope there can be health guarantees not only for refugees but also for all of us in the disaster area.