Deadly earthquake mirrors China's challenges

Updated: 2008-05-30 23:57

BEIJING - Wiping away tears for those succumbed in the deadly earthquake, China should begin pondering over the challenges it faces as reflected by the May 12 disaster.

First, the quake is likely to further enlarge the already widening gap between urban and rural people.

According to Duan Degang, a professor with the Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology who was vice head of an expert team to the quake zone, seriously damaged buildings were mostly in villages and townships, while in urban areas, the impact of the earthquake was limited.

As a result, it was farmers who bore the brunt in the disaster. To rebuild their houses, the thousands just back from verge of death are immediately confronted with a second heavy blow -- economically this time.

Even if they get new houses after all, funded by governments and non-government organizations maybe, how to make a living would be another conundrum.

The quake has so far killed 68,858 and left 18,618 others missing. It was unknown how many victims were teenagers and only children of their families, but about 7,000 schools reportedly collapsed in the catastrophe.

Therefore, among the bereaved, many could be middle-aged and unlikely to have another kid. Who would take care of them when they get old, since "raising kids to support one in one's old age" is still recognized a golden rule in rural areas where social security is underdeveloped?

The silver-haired, though with surviving children perhaps, may also face this problem, because Sichuan is a major origin for migrant workers. For instance, in many villages of the worst-hit Beichuan County, more than half of the villagers were working elsewhere, leaving behind only the elderly and the children.

Maybe one solution, just as some Sichuan-based migrant people are doing or planning to do, is to bring their aged parents with them to places where they work.

Joining the expanding migrant group are young farmers. Through this quake, they have had their farmland ruined and began to realize how harsh the local condition is.

This "migrant boom" would remind us of all the social problems appearing frequently on Websites and newspapers related to this special group of about 200 million in China -- those with wage arrears, having a lack of social security and facing prejudice, among others.

A second challenge of China exposed in the disaster is corruption, something which ordinary people are angry about and officials are pledging to eradicate.

While holding the photos of their deceased children, the grief of the deprived parents turned to rage when they found that just 15 kilometers away from the leveled Beichuan County, the Liuhan Hope Primary School was still erect and its 493 students and staff all survived.

The primary school was sponsored by the Hanlong Group Co., Ltd, whose four other schools in the quake zone also remained intact.

Chen Baosheng, an expert from the Shanghai-based Tongji University and a member of an investigation team under the Ministry of Construction, confirmed the speculation about the quality problem in the Juyuan Middle School, which collapsed and buried 900 in the quake.

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