NGOs work with govt to rebuild northwest China’s quake-hit town

Zhang Xiang, 31 May 2010

YUSHU, Qinghai, May 31 (Xinhua) — Queues quickly formed in front of a make-shift shelter at a hillside village as relief goods were being prepared for distribution.

People lined up for free cotton underwear, socks, solar-powered lights, and dishware — sometimes beds and tents were also available there.

The stand is run by Canada-based Plateau Perspective, one of a few foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Yushu, a remote and predominantly Tibetan region rocked by the devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake on April 14.

Director of Plateau Perspective Marc Foggin told Xinhua the group was able to mobilize a team of 20 foreign medical specialists and joined the rescue efforts the day after the earthquake hit on April 15. They worked side-by-side with thousands of soldiers, police, medical workers and volunteers to save lives.

Despite their presence in China for more than three decades, NGOs have not flourished until very recently. Their role became widely recognized by the public in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in southwest China’ s Sichuan Province that left over 80,000 people dead or missing.

Foggin said years of involvement in Yushu’s ecological and environmental programs gave the Canadian organization an edge in getting the government’s nod to join the rescue operations as soon as possible.

“We weren’t new to the scene, we were already known and trusted,” Foggin said. “We already had well-established relations with the prefecture government, prior to the earthquake.”

Now, as the focus shifts to rehabilitation, the organization continues to assist with the purchase and distribution of a range of relief supplies.

Foggin says they are ready to trial several water purification systems, ranging from individual household units through to systems that can provide for the needs of more than 10,000 people — the population of the hardest-hit town of Gyegu which was completely reduced to rubble after the quake.

In addition to foreign NGOs, a number of their local grassroots counterparts are also actively involved in the quake recovery work.

Qinghai Civil Charity Society President Duocaidan said his group invited senior lamas to give lectures to console relatives of Yushu’s quake victims, most of whom are devout Tibetan Buddhists.

Duocaidan said the lectures were more practical and effective than common psychological therapy that involved inducing the traumatized to break-down and cry in order to release stress.

Because Tibetan tradition requires relatives to bury their sorrow and silently mourn the deaths, a break from that tradition might disturb the reincarnation of the soul of the dead, said Duocaidan.

“The quake zone now has sufficient supply of goods and cash but still needs psychological counseling services,” he says.

Officials say there are many other examples to demonstrate the important role NGOs can play in disaster response.

“Of course, the army and the police play a key role in the rescue and recovery, but NGOs complement the efforts,” said Zhen Bingliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. “NGOs act swiftly in their response to disasters and they are flexible to operate.”