Yushu Quake Special Update
Due to his persistent and tireless efforts after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, which eventually led to the founding of SQR, Goff has become something of Chengdu's go-to foreigner when local disasters strike. Shortly after arriving back in Chengdu today, Goff gave us a rundown of the situation in Qinghai as he saw it.
For SQR, the purpose of this initial trip into Qinghai was twofold: It delivered over one ton of urgently needed supplies, including generators, stoves, torches, flour, instant noodles, and disinfectant; and it enabled SQR staff to conduct a preliminary needs assessment in the disaster areas.
As they did in Sichuan, in Qinghai, SQR is focusing on delivering aid to smaller and more remote communities that are overlooked by military and larger aid groups.
On the Ground in Longbao and Surrounding Areas
"From media reports, I didn't think it was so bad, but it's totally flattened. Total rubble on the ground. You can see that the buildings just collapsed like a house of cards," said Goff. While telecommunication lines were restored to the area within a day or two of the quake, most of the disaster area remains without electricity.
It's "amazingly remote, naturally stunning ... area. ... It's like the end of the world. I've never been anywhere so remote in my life," said Goff. Perhaps due mostly to their being accustomed to life in harsh conditions, the mood among those living in disaster regions is relatively sedate. "There was no looting or plundering that we saw. People were very calm," said Goff, and "local reactions to government relief efforts were generally positive."
Food and water is sufficient at the moment, from what Goff said, but disinfectants and medicines are in short supply. The 8,000 residents of Longbao used up 50,000 tablets of assorted medicines in several days and are requesting more; other towns SQR talked to have experienced similar situations.
And while temporary sheet-metal housing started arriving in the past few days, hundreds of thousands appear to be without shelter, said Goff. Official statements indicate that there are 40,000 tents already in Qinghai, but tricky logistics might be creating a bottleneck in distribution.
Goff guesses that the building materials might have contributed to a lower proportion of casualties compared to injuries in this quake as compared to the Sichuan quake; the number of severely injured has overwhelmed local hospitals, and patients are being airlifted to Huaxi and other hospitals in Chengdu, where doctors and medical staff are reliving a tragic scene from two years prior.
The Hazardous Road from Xining to Yushu
According to Goff, the 52-hour, 1,900-kilometer round-trip journey between Xining and Yushu is a grueling, dangerous one; snow and ice make the one road in and out an even more harrowing route than under normal conditions. On this particular trip, he said that he spotted 14 vehicles that had toppled off the side of the elevated road. Many of these were military vehicles, all presumably involved in relief efforts.
As usual, independent volunteers are being cautioned by the government to stay away both for their own safety and to ensure that aid work is carried out in an efficient and organized manner, as well as to lessen the strain placed on roadways and limited food and water supply.
Relief Efforts: Past, Present, and Future
To date for its Yushu quake efforts, SQR has collected around RMB50,000 in cash donations and a number of material donations, such as tents and blankets, mostly from overseas groups. Concurrently with their ongoing community-development efforts in quake-hit areas in Sichuan, they plan to continue to assess needs in Yushu and surrounding areas and deliver supplies as funds are available.
Such places include Haxiu Town (哈秀乡) and Lixin Town (立新乡), both areas with several thousand residents in urgent need of relief.
The handful of NGOs that were based in Xining and Jieku—most of which focused on environmental protection and cultural preservation—have taken a hit. Offices have been flattened and staff killed and injured. Many of the NGOs that moved into Sichuan after the May 12, 2008 quake have sent small teams into Qinghai to aid with efforts there, and because of the Sichuan precedence, coordination among the various small organizations is relatively smooth.
But language and cultural barriers slow down relief efforts for both international and domestic aid organizations; the area is populated predominantly by Tibetans, and in remote regions, very few Mandarin speakers can be found.
Nonetheless, governmental response and the speed of military mobilization is, according to Goff, "incredible. The main distribution center in Jieku is incredibly efficient, and beyond that there are two military camps that look like towns themselves. They're remarkably disciplined; somebody shouts, and 30 trucks come out and go left; they sound again, and another 30 trucks come out and go right. It's phenomenal to watch."
What You Can Do to Help
Cash donations are the quickest and most direct way to help, but SQR is also able to act as a liaison between donors and supply manufacturers as a means of ensuring financial transparency.
It is not standard for us to urge our readers to take a particular action, but the exceptional and close-hitting nature of this tragedy precedes protocol. The international community in China is relatively small and interconnected; that in Western China is even more so. Furthermore, we are some of the few threads linking the English-speaking world directly to the on-ground happenings in China, and we feel it is our duty to not only publicize but also endorse the work of an organization such as Sichuan Quake Relief.
When SQR formed in the days following the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake, it was a true grassroots effort by members of the Chengdu community. It lacked legal status, bank accounts, and any infrastructure whatsoever. But in the two years since then, SQR has continued to play an active role in rebuilding areas communities in Sichuan while establishing itself as a charitable organization in the U.K. and Hong Kong under the name Sichuan Development Fund, with a representative office in Chengdu. This status enables it to obtain approval and permits from China's Civil Affairs Ministry to pass through checkpoints on the roads leading into the disaster areas.
Additionally, with SQR's now well-established network of local and international bank accounts and coalitions, says Goff, "If someone, say in the U.S., makes a donation of $100, it can be withdrawn in Xining and supplies on a truck within two hours. It's very efficient." One hundred percent of donation money goes toward purchasing supplies; none is withheld for administrative costs.
Naturally, there are many options for channeling financial assistance to the area beyond Sichuan Quake Relief, and for your convenience, we have compiled a list of such choices here.
BBC today features a series of photos depicting relief efforts.
Finally, the state has declared today a day of national mourning for the over 2,000 and counting victims of the Yushu earthquake. All bars and entertainment venues are to be closed in observance of the mourning period.
All photographs courtesy David Hunt of Sichuan Quake Relief.