Habitat For Humanity Working On Pilot Reconstruction Project In China’s Earthquake-Torn Sichuan Province

100 Families In Jingyang District To Be First Beneficiaries; Appeal For Funds To Support Initial US5 Million Campaign Continues

SICHUAN, 8th July 2008: Habitat for Humanity and Chinese government officials are working on a pilot project to launch a long-term and sustained Habitat reconstruction effort to rebuild homes and lives following the devastating 12th May earthquake that hit southwestern China. One hundred families in a community northeast of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, are set to benefit from the pilot.

Survey: Habitat for Humanity International’s chief executive Jonathan Reckford (second from left) and Habitat staff visiting temporary shelters in Deyang city, northeast of Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu.

Upbeat: 83-year-old Lu Hongxue in front of her temporary house in Huata village, Pengzhu town, China’s Sichuan province.

Great need: A makeshift shelter in Qinghe village, Jingyang district where Habitat’s pilot reconstruction project will be located.

Meeting the people: (Back row from right) Jonathan Reckford, Rick Hathaway, Habitat’s vice-president for Asia-Pacific, Bryan Withall, who is leading Habitat’s earthquake response in Sichuan, with Cifeng’s villagers in Pengzhu town, Sichuan province.

Earlier, Habitat for Humanity International’s chief executive Jonathan Reckford met families and official in Jingyang, the proposed site of the first pilot project, and other earthquake-torn communities during his visit to Sichuan as part of his six-country Asia tour that ended recently. Over the two days that he spent in Sichuan, he met with local government officials who expressed their hopes of starting reconstruction soon. Reckford also visited a few devastated villages with several Habitat staff.

The indomitable spirit of the affected families left a deep impression on the Habitat group. Eighty-three-year-old Lu Hongxue, for example, was seemingly unfazed by the loss of her home. The resident of Huata village smiled broadly at the approach of the Habitat group who visited Pengzhu town, about 90 km. north of Sichuan’s capital, Standing at her makeshift brick-and-stone outdoor stove, she recounted her experience: “I ran out of the house when the earth began to shake, then watched my house crumble as roof tiles kept falling all around.”

“For now this ‘house’ is enough for us. One day we can have another built,” she said. The “house” that Lu was referring to is a temporary shelter constructed with wood and other materials salvaged from the pile of rubble where her old house stood. Lu shares the shelter with her son, daughter-in-law and their family.

Jingyang, the site of the pilot 100-house project, lies near Deyang city, a one-and-a-half hour drive northeast of Chengdu. Jingyang is predominantly an agricultural district comprising 10 towns, each surrounded by many villages. The earthquake killed 680 people in Jingyang. More than 70,000 buildings collapsed or were damaged. Some 60,000 families – one third of the population – are homeless, and are now housed in tents or makeshift shelters. Some 60,000 children are without a permanent school.

“Upon the recommendation of geological experts, 20 per cent of the total families will have to be relocated elsewhere. At least 80 per cent of the houses can be rebuilt in the existing villages,” Jingyang magistrate Yang Jianming told Reckford and Habitat staff members.

“The central government is very clear that sufficient planning is required and once we receive the final go-ahead we can begin to start with the reconstruction process which we hope to begin in July,” said Yang.

According to Yang, each house will cost about 60,000 to 70,000 renminbi (about US8,750 to 10,220). The central government will provide 10,000 renminbi for each affected family with an additional 10,000 renminbi from the local government. Part of the remaining cost will be contributed by the affected family with the rest being supplied through loans from rural credit cooperatives.

The May earthquake and the aftershocks affected an area equivalent in size to Iraq and killed more than 69,000 people, most of them in Sichuan province. An estimated 15 million people were displaced of whom one third – about five million – are homeless. The Chinese government is rushing to build one million temporary homes by August.

Rebuilding permanent homes is expected to take at least three years. It is hoped four-fifths of families will be able to rebuild within their existing communities.

But in rebuilding Reckford noted: “There is no such thing as an earthquake-proof house design, but it is important to build houses that are earthquake-safe. In the houses we have seen, most were built with cement hollow blocks with heavy timber beams for roof support that collapsed from the force of the earthquake.”

“We will work on a design that will provide the added strength to withstand future earthquakes that may happen.”

Rick Hathaway, Habitat’s vice-president for Asia-Pacific, who was in Reckford’s group, is struck by the scale of destruction. “Yet the forward looking spirit of reconstruction is so very evident on the faces of the residents of the impacted villages. We look forward to supporting this spirit as we partner with villages in Sichuan – and help them rebuild their future,” he said.

When Reckford was in Pengzhu on the first day of his visit in Sichuan, he also met with the town’s vice-mayor. Yun Hongli told the Habitat group that about 8,000 families are affected by the earthquake.

“The first step is to clear away the rubble which at the moment is 70 per cent completed, followed by transitional housing that is currently in progress in every affected region. For the families who choose to live in these shelters the transition period to a permanent house could be anywhere from three to five years,” said Yun. More than 1,700 families among those affected prefer on-site reconstruction to living in temporary shelters, he said.

Unlike some families who wish to rebuild on the site of their former homes, the Cifeng villagers’ choice is limited. Pengzhu construction bureau managers Liu Qishuang and Liu Ming said Cifeng will be completely reconstructed in a new location.

“Although some of the structures seemed to have withstood the effects of the 8.0 earthquake, the local government is concerned that these areas are potentially dangerous. Instead of taking the chance, a decision was made to relocate the 5,000 families to areas which are safer. The farmland will remain but no houses will be constructed.”

At the end of his first day in Sichuan, Reckford said: “The devastation is some of the worst I have seen. The stories of lost family members, neighbors, and classmates are heartbreaking, but I was struck by the resilience of the people.”

He added: “There is an extreme urgency for people to get out of the shelters where so many families are now and back to decent places to live and where their children can continue to get a good education.”

He also commended the people for helping one another and the army for their “amazing role” in rendering help to the people since the very beginning.

Others who accompanied Reckford included Alfred Tsang, HFH China’s CEO; Teck Meng Yong, director of Chinese regions; Hosea Lai, regional program advisor for Chinese regions and Bryan Withall, who is leading Habitat’s earthquake response in Sichuan.

Alfred Tsang said: “Over the coming months, we will work on house designs and begin planning for Habitat’s involvement in the reconstruction. We have a lot of work to do here and I am confident that our response to the communities where we will work will impact the lives of the families we work with.”

Habitat has launched an initial US5 million appeal campaign for reconstruction and will focus on more remote areas of the mountainous province.

Jingyang will be the first of a series of pilot projects to assist 1,000 families and to build the capacity to help thousands more.

In Guangzhou, the capital of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the local US consulate has raised more than 19,000 renminbi for Habitat’s reconstruction efforts with more funds expected from the US Independence Day celebrations on 4th July.

In Hong Kong, HK327,600 (about US42,000) has been raised in aid of Habitat’s response in Sichuan. The contribution was from auctioneers Acker Merrall & Condit that donated its buyer’s commission on a case of 1990 DRC Romanee Conti sold for HK1.56 million at an international wine auction in Hong Kong. Other fundraising activities in aid of Habitat’s reconstruction efforts included an exhibition by Sichuan-born artist Chen Jiagang of his photographs of the worst-hit Wenchuan county before its devastation.

Most recently, the Habitat’s office in Hong Kong has joined hands with RoadShow, a Hong Kong-based outdoor and bus advertising group, to make an appeal for the reconstruction effort with more than 20 buses carrying bus-body advertisements. Hong Kong singer and actress Fiona Sit also showed her support at the recent launch of the campaign.

Habitat has also launched a public service announcement that is set to be aired on TV stations worldwide, including Australia’s ABC and TVS Sydney, CNNI and Discovery Networks.