Friday, September 5, 2008

Sichuan Earthquake Schools

As I have posted before, I was in China when the devastating earthquakes hit Sichuan Provence and watched much of the continuous TV coverage. The coverage from the Chinese media showed many heroic efforts from the government to save people and then help them in any way possible. During this time, the Chinese government also allowed the BBC and CNN to cover the happenings. They reported that children were in schools when the earthquakes hit and thousands of them died when the schools collapsed. In one town, only the school collapsed, while government buildings remained intact. As they showed on TV, the construction of the schools was shoddy. In some cases heavy wire had been used to reinforce the concrete instead of iron bars. I wondered at the time whether the Chinese government would have to acknowledge this. Western TV showed parents grieving and angry as they pointed to the remains of the schools.

Today we get an admission from the Chinese government that its true. From the New York Times --The school collapses have become the most politically sensitive issue to emerge in the aftermath of the earthquake. This summer, grieving parents held street protests to challenge local governments and demand that officials conduct proper investigations into construction quality. Local officials felt so threatened by the parents that they ordered the riot police to break up protests — officers even dragged away crying mothers — and offered the parents compensation money in exchange for their dropping their demands.

Many schools in the earthquake zone crumbled while buildings around them remained standing. According to some estimates, as many as 7,000 classrooms collapsed and up to 10,000 students may have died. In all, nearly 70,000 people died in the quake and 18,000 are considered missing; officials now say those still missing are almost certainly dead. The quake was the deadliest natural disaster in China in more than three decades.

At a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Mr. Ma said more than 1,000 schools suffered from at least one of two major problems: they were built on the fault line and collapsed like many other buildings around them, or they were poorly built.

This second problem “is the construction quality of the building itself — its structure is not completely sound or its materials are not very strong, which is possible,” Mr. Ma said. “Recently, we’ve built school buildings relatively fast, so some construction problems might exist.”
Mr. Ma also acknowledged how important the issue had become to the public, and said the government had sent 2,000 experts to the quake zone to examine the schools.

“This is an issue people are paying attention to,” he said. “First, the parents of schoolchildren are paying a lot of attention, as well as education departments. And even people across the entire country are very much paying attention to this issue.”

When the teams from the central government showed up in the quake zone, some local officials wanted to exaggerate to them the intensity of the earthquake so that poor construction or corruption would not be blamed for building collapses, Mr. Ma said. Some officials also wanted to report greater financial losses in their areas than what had actually occurred to get more aid money, he added.

Shi Peijun, vice chairman of the earthquake committee, said at the news conference that the total direct financial loss from the earthquake was $123 billion.

Mr. Ma did not give any further details on the findings of the experts or say when the government would release a final report. The purpose of the news conference was to update reporters on recovery efforts. Mr. Ma did not mention the school collapses until he was asked about them.

So when I of hear tales from the liberal media about lack of transparency and secrecy in our won government, I can't help acknowledge what the last 7 1/2 years have been like. And even today, the first order from the Republican Convention is "the biased liberal media is out to get us".

"America is a better country than this."

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

I saw reports about this during the Olympic coverage. I wonder if having so much worldwide focus on Beijing helped raise more awareness and put pressure on the Chinese government to come clean.