10 years later: Remembering the Wenchuan Earthquake

Oct 17, 2017

On 12th of May in 2008, the Wenchuan Earthquake struck Sichuan province in China, leading to the deaths of more than 69,000 people and affecting the lives of over 40 million. The earthquake destroyed peoples’ homes and livelihoods, separating families and leaving behind untold levels of poverty in areas where many were already struggling.

On October 13th, The United Nations Development Programme China Office (UNDP China) and partners held a Launching Ceremony for a series of disaster management themed activities, at Bei'an Emergency Cstart-up Business Centre in Beijing. The activities will build up to the Tenth Anniversary of the Wechuan earthquake, which will be commemorated on 12th May 2018. The launching ceremony was chaired by Mr. Zhang Qiang, co-director of the Innovation Centre for Risk Governance at Beijing Normal University. Over 60 guests attended the event, including representatives from UN agencies, government, embassies, the private sector and CSOs.

October 13th also saw celebration of the 2017 International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), which is designated by the United Nations (UN) Assembly. IDDR was started in 1989, after a call by the United Nations General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. The day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face.

“The goal of IDDR 2017 is to provide an advocacy platform to demonstrate support for gender-sensitive implementation of the Sendai Framework, and to highlight achievements and challenges in reducing the numbers of people affected by disasters,” said UNDP Deputy Country Director Mr Patrick Haverman in a keynote speech. “By focusing on south-south cooperation, early recovery and community resilience, UNDP China hopes to continue driving forward robust disaster management programmes that can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The ten years since the Wenchuan earthquake are marked with great development achievements, both in improved governance and of social and international engagement in disaster response and disaster risk reduction. Despite the tremendous loss of lives and property, the rehabilitation in earthquake-struck areas was tremendous, and in recent years socio-economic statusand living conditions in the area have developed rapidly. The event aimed to highlight these achievements and promote inspiration for the future.

“The disaster governance capability of China has improved greatly in recent years.  Led by the Government, social organisations have deepened their participation in disaster relief work” outlined Mr. Yin Guanghui, Deputy Director of the Disaster Relief Headquarters Office of the State Council. “China is ready to share its experience and work together with international community to make our planet safer.”

Ms. Ji Hongbo, Country Representative of The Asia Foundation Beijing Representative Office, also spoke at the event. Ms Hongbo advocated wider international cooperation in disaster management, indicating that China has the experience and best practices of disaster response after major disasters, including information collection, rescue-team building, and mobilization of volunteers.

In addition, Wenchuan Earthquake witness Ms. Qing Jingwen shared her experience from the disaster, calling for all parts of society to raise awareness of disaster prevention. Finally, students from the Haidian District Zhongguancun Second Primary School of Beijing acted a stage play about security education.

Following the stage play, five representatives from various professions participated in a themed dialogue discussing the topic “Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): China’s Experience and Global Pathway”. The speakers shared opinions on the challenges of combining DRR and the SDGs, and the role of development in disaster preparedness and response following Wenchuan earthquake.

A parallel session was held live online where the work of emergency industry companies and organizations were exhibited to online viewers.

The 2017 IDDR campaign seeked to raise global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices taken to reduce exposure to disaster risk at the community level, thereby contributing to saving homes and livelihoods. This is a considerable challenge which can be accomplished only through coordination, cooperation and collaboration among many stakeholders.

Last year also saw the launch of the "Sendai Seven" campaign by UNISDR, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework, the first of which is reducing disaster mortality. This year’s target is focussed on prevention, protection and reducing the number of people affected by disasters.

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