Quake Survivors Protest Over Lack of Aid

2013-04-22
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An elderly man holds a sign asking for help outside his destroyed home in Longmen village in quake-ravaged Lushan county in Sichuan province, April 22, 2013.
AFP

Survivors of an earthquake in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan protested a lack of food and shelter on Monday, trying to waylay relief trucks in a desperate bid for food and water.

More than 200 people are dead or missing—according to official figures—since the quake struck Ya'an city in Lushan county on Saturday, along the same fault line as the devastating tremor that hit Wenchuan county in Sichuan in 2008.

Also Monday, Chinese netizens began an online boycott of donations for victims, citing corruption and misuse of funds following the 2008 quake that left leaving 90,000 dead or missing.

Two days after the latest disaster, hundreds of local residents demonstrated along a major road, calling on the authorities for assistance, according to Reuters and local residents who spoke to RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services.

Many survivors said they were sleeping rough in the open and had nothing to eat, and that the rescue effort appeared to be ignoring them.

A survivor from Lushan's Wangjia village surnamed Zheng said many people still lacked food and shelter, and that people were afraid for their own survival.

"We have been very hard hit by disaster here," Zheng said. "The supplies of grain and tents have been cut off, and we lack water."

"We are on our last legs."

Protest signs

She said villagers had staged a protest, holding up cardboard signs saying, 'no water, no grain, no tents.'

"They were trying to get the relief trucks to stop on their way through, and to give them some food and water, and they tried to stop the trucks with their bodies, but the truck just kept driving towards the county town."

More than 11,000 people have been injured in the earthquake, with 192 deaths confirmed and 23 missing as of late Monday local time, official media reported.

Zheng said she knew personally of three people who had died in the earthquake, including a six-year-old boy.

"When the earthquake struck, he was with his grandfather, and they were crushed by their house, which collapsed," she said.

"There was also an old lady in her eighties, who was crushed to death because she couldn't get outside in time."

Angry

A second Wangjia resident surnamed Liu said the villagers were angry with officials for failing to deliver crucial supplies sooner.

"The aftershocks are pretty bad," Liu said. "They have been quite strong several times, and a lot more buildings have collapsed."

She said some tents had been delivered, but not enough for everyone to have shelter.

"All we can do is sit down on some open ground and put the children and the elderly inside the tents," she said. "There are too many people, and we are having to give our food and clothing to the old and young."

The director of a women's and children's health clinic in Ya'an said the clinic was offering an emergency service for transfer patients from other hospitals, but that it lacked facilities for major surgery.

"The municipal health department didn't tell us to accept patients, and we are open as normal," the director said.

Repeated calls to the Ya'an City People's Hospital went unanswered on Monday.

Beijing sent around 18,000 troops to the area, along with a billion yuan (U.S.$162 million) in disaster relief funds.

While the earthquake appears less disastrous than the 7.9 magnitude quake that left nearly 90,000 dead or missing in May 2008, the relief effort has been hampered by mountainous terrain and crumpled infrastructure, as well as poor weather conditions.

Leave canceled

An employee who answered the phone at the Lushan county government's discipline inspection department said all government officials had had their leave canceled, and were being called in to join the relief effort.

But he said that while access had improved, there was still an acute shortage of relief materials.

"We are lacking a lot of supplies, mainly because the roads are blocked," he said. "The larger trucks are finding it very hard to get through."

"There is a huge demand for supplies from local people, especially for tents and quilts," he added. "They don't really understand that they haven't all arrived yet."

"Perhaps they're concentrating on the worst-hit areas."

Chengdu-based activist Pu Fei, who works for the Tianwang rights group, said the situation had improved slightly on Monday.

"We have been in contact with the disaster region all along, and there has been a slight improvement in the supplies situation in the past couple of days," Pu said. "Some sections of road are under official control, and they are only letting relief vehicles through."

He said some of the injured had been transferred to hospitals in Chengdu, Sichuan's capital.

"However, we haven't seen mass transfers because the population isn't very dense out there," Pu said. "There haven't been too many aftershocks, so people aren't feeling very panicked."

Boycott

Online comments on Monday suggested that the wider public is less willing to donate money to aid earthquake victims, with some netizens launching a boycott of the charity relief effort, citing official corruption.

Citing the misuse of HK $1.3 billion (U.S. $167 million) donated by Hong Kong people in the wake of the 2008 earthquake, bloggers on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo said they have little faith in the government-backed Chinese Red Cross to ensure the funds are properly used.

"Don't ask us to donate yet again, in the face of a disaster," wrote user @tanxiaogujin. "Five years after the [2008] earthquake, what has the Red Cross done with the millions and billions sent from overseas?"

Another user wrote: "I refuse to donate. The reason is that there have been too many cases of misuse or embezzlement of disaster relief funds at every level of government, but they don't mention that."

The Sichuan provincial government's civil welfare department on Sunday issued a notice calling for "strict discipline" with respect to the donated funds.

"Corruption, misuse, withholding and squeezing of disaster relief funds or materials is against [the ruling Chinese Communist Party] discipline and against the law," the statement said.

An official in charge of administering donated funds at the Sichuan provincial government surnamed Sun said the amount of donated funds isn't as high as in 2008.

"We are still processing it, but it seems that the amount isn't as large as it was before," Sun said. "Perhaps it's to do with the fact that the disaster isn't as large."

She said that online calls for the donation of material goods like relief equipment are unlikely to be heeded.

"You can't really donate goods, because it's very hard to manage them," Sun said. "Actually, they don't need anything over there right now. It's just that we can't get any vehicles in because the roads are blocked."

"We have enough relief materials, including tents and medical supplies, all of which are being sent in a coordinated manner by the government," she said.

Swift community response

She said the response from the local community to the quake has been faster than that of the government, however.

"People of charitable disposition drove out there, and walked out there, because it's hard even to get a small, family-size car through," Sun said. "Anything larger than that can't get through."

A worker at a state-run agency in Beijing surnamed Fang said she has no plans to donate to the quake relief effort this time around.

"Donating is pointless. I'm not going to donate," Fang said. But she added: "Sometimes, if you don't donate, they take it directly out of your pay-packet anyway."

"Even if you give money, it never gets to the pockets of ordinary people," she said. "I'm opposed to donations ... because you never know where it will go. This should be the government's problem."

Meanwhile, police near Baoxing, which lies just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the epicenter at Lushan, said they were trying to calm protesters, Reuters reported.

However, the roads appeared blocked by government and military vehicles trying to access the areas worst-hit by the quake.

"Our leaders have visited and we're working getting these people food and water," the agency quoted a police officer as saying.

Residents of Chengdu said the city felt strong tremors on Saturday.

"We felt it pretty strongly over here," said a Chengdu resident surnamed Zhang, who said he had already lived through two major earthquakes in Sichuan.

"There was a pretty strong tremor that lasted around 10 to 15 seconds, but we still felt it wasn't as bad as the earthquake of May 12, 2008," he said.

"It was only a magnitude 7."

Reported by Wen Yuqing and Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.