Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Remembering the Sichuan earthquake

People light candles to commemorate last year's May 12 Sichuan earthquake at People Square in Shanghai May 12, 2009. Mourners crowded ruins in southwest China on Tuesday to mark one year since an earthquake shattered the region... REUTERS/Aly Song photo

It is not hard for me to identify with these Chinese mourners, living here on the San Andreas Fault. The "Big One" could happen any day -- but, of necessity, we act as if the earth will remain fixed and secure forever. It won't -- it hasn't even in my short memory. The other day a new acquaintance showed me her city issued "preparedness volunteer" badge as a sort of joke and we all laughed. Periodically we are swamped with instructions for bolting stuff down and assembling survival supplies for a time when outside aid may not be unavailable. We either get with the program -- or we don't.

It's hard to take in the sheer scale of what happened in China. Everything there is big.

the May 12 quake... left 80,000 dead and an estimated 5 million homeless ...


I don't know what that means. None of us do.

An Alertnet blog post by Thin Lei Win reminds us a piece of the story that usually disappears from disaster narratives: what happens to the maimed survivors, especially elders. We instinctively focus on children, the future, looking for revived hope. But everyone doesn't die and some are old.

In earthquakes, the elderly usually account for a fifth of those affected, according to Francis Markus, spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. ...

"The tradition of families looking after their elderly parents is already coming under economic and social pressure (in China) and the earthquake has further intensified this pressure," Markus says. "There is a growing need for provisions to look after those elderly."

With a rapidly aging population and a growing pattern of young people migrating to big cities, older people are often forced to carry on working in rural areas like Sichuan. Livelihoods are a major problem for all survivors of the quake with many people having lost crops, farmland and animals. But for the elderly, picking up the pieces again can be particularly hard.

"Many older people are, out of necessity, still economically active. A lot of these activities were disrupted heavily during the earthquake," said Peter Morrison, Help Age International's regional programme manager. "The earthquake has left many of these people to fend for themselves."

Meanwhile, the injured who survived number some 50000 people, many without legs or arms or needing rehabilitation.

On the more cheerful side, and concurrently a view of the magnitude of the damage, is this YouTube [9:48] about the relief project thought up by a couple of U.S. musicians resident in China.

H/t James Fallows.

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