Sichuan Earthquake

On 12 May, 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter Scale devastated large parts of the West Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. The earthquake was the largest to hit China in 30 years and was followed by a number of heavy aftershocks. The earthquake’s epicentre was in the county of Wenchuan, a mountainous area on the Longmenshan fault line, fifty miles northwest of the provincial capital, Chengdu.

Although the true extent of the devastation and loss of life may never be fully known, government figures suggest that over 80,000 people lost their lives and 5 million lost their homes. Among the most badly affected group were 10,000 school children who were killed when 7000 classrooms collapsed. Damage to dams, water courses and other infrastructure meant that more than 1.5 million people were displaced to safer parts of the province.

Following the earthquake, a wave of grief, concern and a desire to help swept across China. It is estimated that 150,000 people travelled to the earthquake zone to offer their help. Thousands of others donated blood, clothes and food. Donations of money to the Chinese Red Cross and other charities reached more than US$6bn. Many Chinese religious organisations helped in the relief effort, including the Protestant Amity Foundation, the Catholic Jinde Charities and the Buddhist Ciji Foundation.

After the initial effort to save lives and reach the injured, the government has initiated a five year reconstruction programme for homes and infrastructure damaged in the quake. According to announcements by vice premier Li Keqiang, the extra investment will total US$146bn.

Some Chinese have commented that the effects of the earthquake were exacerbated by local greed and negligence, particularly in the construction of schools. Government investigations are under way as to whether building regulations were broken. Others have called for tax cuts and further relief measures for families in the quake-hit areas to enable them to restore their livelihoods as soon as possible. Meanwhile China’s nascent trauma counselling services have a huge task in helping individuals and families begin to cope with their experiences and their loss.


Earthquake victims
© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010