Tomorrow marks three years since an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale devastated the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Shanxi, Guizhou and Hubei.
The earthquake was China’s worst since 1976. The official death toll stands at over 87,400, but may be higher. Around 374,000 people were injured, some 5,500 children were orphaned and 15 million people were displaced.
As an emergency response and recovery organisation, it might seem strange that three years after the earthquake struck we are still working in China. The fact is however that some humanitarian disasters take far longer than a few weeks, or even a few months, to recover from.
After the China earthquake five million houses needed to be built, an undertaking comparable to rebuilding the whole of London. Mammoth as this task was, constructing homes is only the beginning of the recovery process. People must also be given the skills and means to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient.
The Chinese Red Cross livelihoods programme – supported by the British Red Cross – enables people to do just that. The programme helps many survivors to retrain, when disability or relocation has left them unable to continue their old work. In some cases, the Red Cross helps survivors recover the livelihoods they had before the earthquake.
One person who has benefitted from the livelihoods programme is Mr Zhang Xingyou. When the earthquake struck, Zhang was the proud owner of a prospering pig farm. Moments later, his business had been destroyed. He recalls: “There was nowhere for us to sleep or stay and no place for the pigs, so I had to sell all of them.”
He continues: “Right after the earthquake, all I could see was dead bodies and destroyed houses and roads. From the bottom of my heart I didn’t think I could do anything to change things by myself.”
But then, a Red Cross training programme helped Zhang learn about marketing, managing a business and predicting market prices. He says: “Before I attended the class, I did not raise any pigs because I had lost all confidence, but now I have more than 100 pigs and I still want to scale up.”
The Red Cross training not only gave Zhang the skills and motivation to rebuild his business, it inspired him to share what he has learnt with other farmers in the area. As of March 2011, 4,876 people had taken part in the Red Cross livelihoods programme in China but, if Mr Zhang’s generosity is anything to go by, this new knowledge may help many others too.
Read more survivors’ stories
Read more about how the Red Cross is helping