What Happened In The Sichuan Earthquake?
The Sichuan Earthquake and the Role of Government after Natural Disasters Although the quality of our life has become better than ever before in modern times, disasters still play a negative role in people’s lives. However, as China’s response to the Sichuan Earthquake shows, the government can help people survive hard times when they are in danger. Although governments have played an important role in helping victims of disaster, the role needs to become much greater in scope, and needs to include more preventative measures to protect people before disasters happen.
As known by many, there was a huge earthquake that happened in China, which is called the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The Humanitarian Practice Network article “Lessons from the Sichuan earthquake” introduces the extent of the destruction caused by the earthquake. For example, as independent consultant Brian Hoyer writes, “some 87,500 people were killed, 45.5m affected and 14.4m displaced. Economic losses were estimated at $86 billion, with 21m buildings damaged.” There is no doubt that the earthquake had caused tremendous damage to all parts of Sichuan in China. After the earthquake, the Chinese government quickly began the rescue and achieved good results. Brian thought that “the Chinese government had the capacity to respond”.
To be more specific, the Chinese Government dispatched the People’s Liberation Army to the affected area within 14 minutes, which reflects the efficiency of the Chinese government. Additionally, the government worked on controlling infectious diseases through extensive medical care and surveillance, and providing tent shelters to protect people. The government also deployed a large number of police and troops to maintain stability; the government selected qualified volunteers to help victims, and effectively managed the use of donated items. As a result, the Chinese Government played a significant role in helping victims of the disaster.
Even if the Chinese Government has implemented effective measures to reduce the damage caused by earthquakes, it can take more preventative action before disasters happen. In 2002, a Chinese geologist Chen Xuezhong published a study about the earthquake. In his study, he argues that people should pay attention to the possibility of an earthquake which is more than 7.0 in magnitude in the Sichuan region. If the Chinese Government had attached importance to that study, the earthquake might have caused less damage. The reason is that when people build infrastructure, they should consider buildings’ shock resistance and their influence in the earthquake and let people do more earthquake evacuation exercises, which is beneficial to reduce the damage.
Another example of where the government played an important role was in the Bahamas last month. The Wall Street Journal article “‘Opening the Door to Hell Itself’: Bahamas Confronts Life After Hurricane Dorian” tells of the hurricane causing severe human and economic losses in the Bahamas. As journalist Erin Ailworth writes, “At least 53 people are dead and more than 1,300 still missing—many likely swept to their deaths. The storm affected some 75,000 residents, many of whom evacuated.” The article also states that the Government of Bahamas was working hard to rebuild the city and rescued illegal immigrants from Haiti. It also initiated and operated temporary housing with clean water and sanitation. Officials were considering placing survivors in tents.
Although governments help the victims of disasters, the role still needs to become much greater in scope. For example, the American government definitely was doing something to help people in New Orleans with post-disaster reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, but it was not necessarily beneficial to the people. For instance, according to Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Republican congressman
Richard Baker says, “we finally cleaned up the public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it but God did”.
It expresses that some people in the American government always hoped to rebuild the market by changing the regulations, but there were other people in the American government like Obama who wanted to help poor people. When Katrina came, and destroyed the houses of the poor people, Richard Baker was happy. To illustrate, when the government rebuilt the disaster area, it was affected by disaster capitalism, and people’s lives were not effectively improved.
In The New Yorker article “For the Victims of Florence, Trump Needs to Prove that He Can Get Hurricane Recovery Right”, Dough Bock Clark and Charles Bethea writes, the U.S. government official representing Trump visited North Carolina after the hurricane disaster of 2018. The state and local officials in North Carolina appreciated the federal government’s response to Hurricane Florence. During the storm, federal employees helped local officials make first aid with boats and ropes, saving 38 people in one day.
However, some people think the federal government didn’t do well in the past. For example, in the 2011 Hurricane Irene disaster, a woman named Elizabeth Thayer, a citizen with two children and husband who was away as a soldier, thought she had nothing to gain from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Only the neighbors gave her a few boxes of water. That was how FEMA ignored people outside the municipality as well as those who owned property insurance. She couldn’t get help.
The best thing that the government can do, however, is have more measures to protect people not after but before disasters happen. The Washington Watch article “How Much Can (and Should) the Government Protect People from Natural Disaster?” introduces something about it. For example, New Orleans officials have known for decades that their citizens were being threatened by a major storm. Just a year before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a simulation by the
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pointed out that a level 3 storm would cause tremendous damage.
The exercise found that evacuating the city would be a huge problem. When the storm hit, the city was not ready. This shows that the government has the ability to predict disasters, but it does not take measures to prevent disasters. Therefore, the government should focus more on prevention before the disaster, so that losses are minimized instead of ignoring possible danger.
The Sichuan earthquake as well as other hurricanes in America and the Bahamas show that governments have done something to prevent or help people after the natural disasters.
However, they can take more preventive measures, such as establishing an early warning mechanism for natural disasters. The government could pay more attention to geological studies written by geologists and improve the level of earthquake prediction by scientific and technological equipment.
In conclusion, the government has played an important role in helping victims of disasters, but the scope of this role needs to be much larger and more preventive measures need to be included to protect people before disaster strikes. In the future, it is best for the government to establish more comprehensive measures to protect people from natural disasters and minimize the damage.
Written by Zeyang Yu
Ailworth, Erin. “’Opening the Door to Hell Itself’: Bahamas Confronts Life After Hurricane Dorian.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 22 Sept. 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/opening-the-door-to-hell-itself-bahamas-confronts-life after-hurricane-dorian-11569176306.
Chen, Xuezhong. “Seismic Risk Analysis of Earthquakes of M>7 in Sichuan Province, China.” Recent Developments in World Seismology, Dec. 2002,
Clark, Doug Bock, and Charles Bethea. “For the Victims of Florence, Trump Needs to Prove That He Can Get Hurricane Recovery Right.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 21 Sept. 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/with-florence-the-trump administration-gets-a-second-chance-to-do-hurricane-recovery-right.
Hoyer, Brian. “Lessons from the Sichuan Earthquake.” Humanitarian Practice Network, July 2009, https://odihpn.org/magazine/lessons-from-the-sichuan-earthquake/. Kettle, Donald. “How Much Can (and Should) the Government Protect People from Natural Disaster?” Washington Watch, June 2014,
https://www.governing.com/columns/washington-watch/gov-insurer-of-last-resort.html. Klein, Naomi. “Blank is beautiful.” The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador, 2008.
What Happened In The Sichuan Earthquake?