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Case study: reconstruction after North China’s earthquake

Alcira Kreimer, Edward Echeverria, and Martha Preece

The North China Earthquake Reconstruction Project emphasized community participation, cultural traditions, and government commitment. Damaged dwellings were replaced by improved housing based on local architectural styles, layout, and construction methods. Project leaders worked closely with community leaders in planning and implementation, thus paving the way for sustainable improvement. By strengthening the ability of institutions in disaster-prone areas to deal with risk reduction, mitigation, and rehabilitation, the project is reducing the vulnerability to disaster of human settlements and capital investments. A strength of the program is the central and local governments’ commitment to allocating resources to prevention and mitigation efforts that are seen as essential to national development goals.

In 1989, 30 quakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or above hit the Chinese mainland in Datong-Yanggao. On October 18 that year, five earthquakes registering more than 5.0 on the Richter scale swayed part of Northern China, the peak shock measuring 6.1. Strong aftershocks followed on October 23. Housing, hospitals, schools, and small-scale industry were damaged extensively, as were telecommunications, water supplies, and electric power. This was one of the worst earthquake catastrophes to hit the region since 1976, when a quake registering 7.8 killed more than 400,000 people and destroyed the city of Tangshan in Hebei province. The heaviest damage of the 1989 earthquake in Datong-Yanggao occurred in the impoverished rural Bu Cun Village located on a windswept, eroded plain about 1,300 meters above sea level; it was almost totally destroyed. Casualties were slight (20 dead and fewer than 200 seriously injured) because of earlier, less severe warning quakes and prompt evacuation action by local officials. No major urban areas were significantly affected, partly because of their distance from the epicenter and partly because of the greater resilience of urban buildings. But rural areas are vulnerable to natural hazards, mostly because of inappropriate building techniques and materials. Poorly built houses - made mostly of mud-brick and stone and certainly not designed to be earthquake-resistant - offer no resistance to the devastating effects of the shock waves. Even the public buildings and factories, made of better quality materials at higher standards, succumbed to the Datong-Yanggao earthquake.

The region’s main economic activities are coal mining and agriculture (mainly subsistence crops). The destruction of many economic and social facilities has wrecked the fragile local economy. The heaviest damage was to physical infrastructure and buildings: some 25,000 houses and more than 3,000 rooms in schools, clinics, and community facilities were destroyed, and 46 local industries were devastated. Direct losses were estimated to be more than US$150 million, and about US$15 million in indirect production losses - mainly in industry and commerce - were expected the first year. About 150,000 people were rendered homeless, their barns and stables destroyed and their stored winter food and animal feed lost. Nearly 1,500 workers lost their jobs. By early December 1989, 32,000 families (about 15 percent of the region’s population) were in temporary shelter, improvised in either the same damaged, structurally impaired homes with some minor repairs, or in small, excavated mud rooms. National and local agencies had difficulty accommodating overwhelming demands on institutions, particularly for the fast, efficient restoration of basic infrastructure and housing and production facilities. Post-earthquake needs required enormous financial resources. Funds from national and local budgets were needed for reconstruction and for irrigation and water supply works. Countries made financing for construction of schools, clinics, and other community facilities available as grants. More funding came from private donations, insurance refunds, and local revenues.

China is disaster-prone. Sixty percent of its land area is in seismic zones vulnerable to earthquakes registering more than 6.0, and 70 percent of metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million are in seismic zones vulnerable to quakes registering over 7.0 on the Richter scale. China has experienced some of the most severe recorded earthquakes in the world. Since 1900, it has had 662 earthquakes registering more than 6.0 on the Richter scale, 106 of them registering more than 7.0 (about 30 percent of the world’s earthquakes are above that intensity). The death toll from earthquakes in China in the twentieth century alone exceeds 600,000 (50 percent of the world total). And seismic risk analysis in China indicates that after a decade of relative calm, the country is entering a period of heavy seismic activity that is expected to last 12 to 15 years. (For details on disaster reduction in China see box by Chen Hong.)

Disaster preparedness and emergency response. China has a long history of research in forecasting earthquakes. Since 1966, Chinese scientists have made detailed observations of the activities that precede earthquakes. Observations and analysis have been used to develop a methodology for predicting earthquakes far in advance (10 to 20 years) or imminent (in two to 12 days). The research and analysis procedures were formalized with the establishment of the Center for Analysis of Prediction (CAP) under the State Seismological Bureau. The center’s ultimate goal is to reduce loss of life and property from earthquakes through disaster preparedness and mitigation. But now the seismological monitoring network provides only partial coverage of China’s vast territory because of limited data.

The authorities responded rapidly to emergency needs after the October 18 earthquake. Immediate investigation of earthquake damage was organized by the various departments of the Ministry of Construction. The prefecture had a plan to speed up emergency assistance for the affected villages, including the temporary restoration of homes, stored foodcrops, and production capabilities until housing and agricultural storage could be permanently restored. Relief efforts were coordinated by prefectural and county civil affairs offices and supported by nongovernment groups and modest international aid. The recovery activities involved detailed planning for the reconstruction and repair of villages and affected assets, including the restoration of electricity in most village centers.

Reconstruction as prevention and mitigation

The disruption of the local economy and its effects on development prompted the government to ask the World Bank for assistance in normalizing economic activity through reconstruction operations in Yanbei Prefecture of Shanxi province and Yangyuan County in Hebei province. Reconstruction planning was undertaken with the support of a provincial task force from the architectural, engineering, and town planning institutes, advised by experts from the Ministry of Construction and the State Seismological Bureau.

The International Development Association’s (IDA’s) involvement in this project is in line with its primary mission in emergency recovery assistance: restoring productivity and promoting disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness. The emergency recovery project was designed to prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future. It includes: (a) a component for rebuilding rural infrastructure, housing, education, health, and industry in about 150 villages, and (b) a national component for institutional development and technical assistance that gives maximum support to existing institutions’ efforts at earthquake prediction and disaster preparedness in China.

The reconstruction plan was based on rehabilitation options that varied based on degree of damage and prospects for cost recovery. Repair and reinforcement will take priority wherever possible, but reconstruction will be carried out where damage and needs are extreme and where reconstruction is affordable. Existing buildings, even those with little damage, are to be reinforced so they are more seismic-resilient. All new structures must conform to the seismic requirements of state building codes and to affordability criteria and will be built using traditional and modern materials and construction methods. Financing has been provided for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of schools, health posts, community offices, stores, and small-scale agricultural processing facilities. An enterprise rehabilitation component financed building repairs to restore a limited number of rural enterprises to their original capacity. The project also provides for the rehabilitation of such basic infrastructure as roads and paths, drains, water supplies, and sanitary facilities. All reconstruction of major buildings is being carried out to national design standards and codes.

Case study: disaster reduction in China

Chen Hong

The Chinese people have a long history of struggling against natural disasters. A vast territory with a complex climate and geography, China is beset every year with drought, floods, windstorms, earthquakes, mudflows, plant diseases, and infestations of insect pests. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has averaged 7.7 droughts, 5.8 floods, and 7 typhoons a year. Drought, floods, and earthquakes are the most destructive. Since the turn of the century, China has experienced over 2,600 destructive earthquakes, more than 500 of them registering above 6 and nine of them above 8 on the Richter scale. These earthquakes have killed 270,000 people and injured 220,000. Mudflows and landslides threaten hundreds of small and medium-sized cities and China’s 1,800-kilometer coastline will be highly susceptible to rising sea levels, should the threatened greenhouse effect materialize. In addition, soil erosion, degradation of the land, and environmental pollution are increasingly severe.

In an ordinary year, natural disasters damage roughly 20 million hectares of agricultural land, causing the loss of 20 billion kilograms of grain. This - together with the collapse of 3 million rooms and losses in other sectors - causes direct annual economic losses of about 50 billion yuan RMB (US$10 billion). Each year, natural disasters kill thousands and affect more than 200 million people.

China’s countermeasures against disaster

China’s government has focused heavily on reducing natural disasters, holding as its first priority disaster prevention combined with relief operations. Its achievements include the following:

· Bringing big rivers under control. In the past 40 years, the government has invested about 80 billion yuan in large-scale engineering works to control and exploit rivers by building and consolidating dikes and dams, building flood storage and discharge areas and reservoirs, and dredging waterways to the sea. The Yellow River - known as “China’s suffering” in the past - hasn’t burst or changed its course in more than 40 years. The main cities on the Huai, Hiehe, and Liao rivers are able to control the major floods that occur once in 100 years and have been able to prevent the big floods that tend to occur every 20 to 50 years.

· Strengthening construction against damage from typhoons, floods, and earthquakes. Embankments have been built and housing elevated to prevent flood damage in low-lying, flood-prone areas. Earth and straw houses have been replaced with brick constructions in southeastern coastal areas subject to storms and typhoons. New buildings must be earthquake-resistant. Flood-diversion and storage areas have been built along the banks of great rivers, and manpower from all walks of life is mobilized to control floods and to move people and property to safety when floods come. After floods and typhoons recede, engineers rush to repair such lifelines as highways, railways, and communication lines.

· Building irrigation works. In drought areas, wells and ditches have been dug to increase irrigation. In flood areas, dikes and dams have been built to drain waterways, and salted low-lying areas have been reformed.

· Planting trees to prevent soil erosion and sandstorms. It is national policy to cover the country with trees; March 12 is national tree planting day. After nearly 40 years’ efforts, forests now cover 12 percent of China, up from 6 percent in 1949. Two long shelter belts have been formed: one, 7,000 kilometers long, protects 12 provinces and autonomous regions in north China; the other provides windbreaks against typhoons in coastal areas.

· Improving disaster prediction and warning capabilities. China has set up 2,700 meteorological stations, applying advanced science and technology to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts. An earthquake monitoring system - a network of professionals and nonprofessionals - has been established in the main seismic areas. China has also established a National Forecasting Station for plant diseases and pests, drawing on the work of 2,000 scattered substations.

· Formulating and promulgating appropriate laws and regulations. Laws have been passed to improve forestry, wildfire control, environmental protection, urban planning, the control of forestry diseases and insect pests, and the use of land, water, and grasslands.

Recovery and rehabilitation

Every year the government helps about 3 million victims of disaster recover their ability to earn a living, restore production, and rebuild their homeland, encouraging a spirit of self-reliance and mutual support in times of difficulty. China encourages victims to help themselves through individual efforts to maintain productive sidelines; through collective management of enterprises (roughly 45,000 enterprises provide jobs to victims of disaster); and through relief work, without which victims receive no relief assistance.

Since 1985, China has been trying to launch disaster relief insurance, which it considers an effective tool for disaster relief in a poor economy. China also encourages mutual assistance - through voluntary aid and donations between families, villages, and prefectures. In savings associations and grain associations, village farmers who contribute savings or grain may borrow grain from the association in times of need. This practice is particularly important in inaccessible mountain regions. There are about 200,000 savings and grain associations in China.

China has also encouraged international cooperation on disaster mitigation projects and the mutual exchange of information and experience. China has received disaster relief assistance from foreign governments and international organizations, which have helped both in rehabilitation and in providing ways to make a living.

Disaster management

China’s central government is responsible for decisionmaking and command, and handles prevention activities and relief. Headquarters for flood and drought control and forest fire prevention are subordinate to the central government. Local governments are in charge of organizing and directing disaster work within their administrative division. Manpower, tools, machinery, and materials needed for disaster prevention, fighting, and relief are strictly allocated within the region, as is support from higher levels or other regions.

The People’s Liberation Army is the main force against disaster. The People’s army contributes significantly to project construction, flood control, resettling victims, providing medical services, repairing lifeline projects, and helping victims restore production and rebuild their homeland.

China’s disaster reduction strategy

In response to the UN proposal for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, China has developed a strategy for disaster reduction that emphasizes:

· Conducting scientific research on relevant problems, with a view to harnessing the destructive force of natural disasters and converting it to energy that benefits mankind.

· Developing practical applications for scientific knowledge. (Generally speaking, China’s level of scientific research about disasters is low, with some exceptions.)

· Establishing a national system for predicting and issuing warnings of disaster.

· Building major disaster-reducing engineering works, as the national economy develops.

· Using mass media to improve national awareness of ways to reduce natural disasters and to provide training in basic disaster reduction skills.

· Improving international cooperation and the exchange of information and ideas to combat humanity’s common enemies.

The project emphasized community participation by consulting with village communities to determine the scope of reconstruction possible given applicable cost ceilings and using local labor equivalent to about 25 to 30 percent of building costs. Government project teams visited each community to work out with villagers and their leaders the community’s highest-priority investments in light of the available budget and schedule for reconstruction and repair, and to help organize the community’s labor input. These teams also helped supervise the reconstruction process and helped villages invite bids for the rehabilitation of public buildings and infrastructure.

The national component included provisions geared to reducing vulnerability through earthquake prediction and emergency preparedness. This component emphasized institutional support to improve the State Seismological Bureau’s (SSB’s) network of earthquake monitoring stations in areas identified as being high in seismic risk (Sichuan, the capital region, and Yunnan) and to reinforce satellite communication and computer equipment at SSB’s Beijing headquarters. Shanxi province also drew up an emergency preparedness plan for Yanbei Prefecture for earthquakes and other natural disasters and emergencies - such as large chemical spills, the disruption of urban water supplies, and collapsing buildings - a pilot effort at the prefecture level to be replicated elsewhere in the country. The project agreement also called for immediate, on-the-spot investigation of earthquake damage.

Human and social factors

The North China Earthquake Reconstruction Project emphasized three key elements of reconstruction: community participation, cultural traditions, and government commitment. Project design gave special attention to human and social factors. It provides opportunities for local participation and preserves local traditions by maintaining village identity and avoiding unnecessary relocation. Destroyed or damaged dwellings are replaced by improved housing based on local architectural styles and village layout and construction methods. By selecting simple, cost-effective building techniques and structures that use local building materials, the project ensures the rapid rehabilitation of permanent dwellings at the same time that it strengthens local capabilities for housing reconstruction. And by working closely with community leaders in planning and implementation it paves the way for a successful action program.

Because of China’s vulnerability to natural hazards, central and local governments are strongly committed to preventing and mitigating losses from natural disasters. The Ministry of Construction has drawn up a program of studies and research into earthquake damage mitigation for its Earthquake Resistance Bureau. It includes:

· Techniques for strengthening the earthquake-resistance of existing buildings and life-line structures (traditional rural housing, high-rise apartment buildings, and hospitals).

· Earthquake vulnerability assessments for key cities.

· Case studies of earthquake reconstruction experience.

· Staff training in modern design and construction techniques.

Strategies and policies have been formulated to bring natural disaster reduction programs into the strategic plans for national economic and social development. By strengthening the ability of institutions in disaster-prone areas to deal with risk reduction, mitigation, and rehabilitation, the project is reducing the vulnerability of human settlements and capital investment to seismic events.