CHINA> Regional
Farmers in China quake zone short of rebuilding money
Updated: 2009-06-24 20:53

BEIJING: Poor farmers in areas of southwest China struck by a massive earthquake in May 2008 face financial problems in rebuilding their homes, an official said here Wednesday.

Zhang Ping, minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country's top economic planning body, said some impoverished people could not get bank loans to rebuild their homes because of their tough economic situation and limited incomes.

Zhang's remarks came in a report to the ninth session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.

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He reported on reconstruction work after the May 12, magnitude-8.0 earthquake in southwestern Sichuan Province, which left more than 87,000 people dead or missing.

The official called for forceful measures to ensure the rebuilding of homes for poverty-stricken households and aid to address their financial problems, material and labor shortages.

The reconstruction of rural houses should be completed by the end of the year so rural residents could spend the new year in "warm new houses," he said.

Other problems found were slow progress in the reconstruction of urban homes, reduced financing capacity of rural financial institutions for small and medium-sized enterprises and shortages of building materials and technical support for the quake-hit region, according to Zhang.

He urged increased attention to the psychological problems of quake survivors. Despite counseling, government officials and residents still had psychological problems after having lost relatives and property and then facing heavy life and work pressures, he said.

Two government officials in quake-battered Beichuan County of Sichuan Province committed suicide after the disaster. Feng Xiang, 33, and Dong Yufei, 40, both hanged themselves after losing family members. And in Mianyang City, a third official, He Zonghua, 40, jumped to his death from a hotel.

According to a survey by Sichuan University, more than 400,000 people in the quake zone are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More than 40,000 of those with PTSD are at risk of suicide, said Zhang Wei, deputy president of the West China Hospital under Sichuan University.

The Sichuan provincial government dispatched medical groups last year to 10 of the worst-hit counties to relieve officials' mental stress and ensure every official took holidays. The government also spent money to improve the working and living conditions of the officials.

However, experts admitted China lacked mental health professionals and staff trained in handling PTSD.

Zhang from the NDRC said long-term psychological assistance would be targeted at the population suffering from psychological disorders.

The government would send experienced professionals to offer counseling for local people and provide training for medical staff in the quake area for at least half a year, according to the official.

Staff at grassroots medical institutions in the quake zone were also expected to finish a year of study on psychological treatment in other provinces on rotation, he said.

At the NPC meeting, Zhang told legislators that China had invested more than 360 billion yuan (US$52.7 billion) in reconstruction projects in the area as of the end of April.

Reconstruction was under way for nearly 2,800 schools and more than 1,500 medical institutions, accounting for more than 75 percent and 60 percent, respectively, of the total.

Nearly 70 percent of students in the quake zone had moved into permanent school buildings and the percentage would rise to 95 by the end of this year, according to the official.

All students in the region would be back in permanent school buildings next March, he said.