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Shoddy construction taking more lives than earthquake

In Wenchuan earthquake, a primary school student was buried in the ruins of his school. Photo: images.baidu.com

Until now, with the fifth anniversary of Wenchuan earthquake (汶川地震) just around the corner, no one knows for sure how many people died in the catastrophe.

Back in 2009 at a high level conference in Beijing, a reporter from a Hong Kong-based TV station asked a government official from Sichuan, “Did you find any faulty construction among those collapsed school buildings and hospitals after the governmental investigation? And do you have any comments for the bereaved parents who are heartbroken from losing their kids due to such jerry-built projects?” Wei Hong, the then deputy governor of Sichuan province, responded, “We’ve done field research and the conclusion is it is mainly the intensity of earthquake that toppled most of the buildings and “we think it’s understandable that those parents are still affected till now. Let’s say we should greet our future with hope in the heart.”
  
The deputy governor’s indifferent and official tone might have enraged many caring people at the moment, but the most ironic thing is that even if people could not prove that the collapsed buildings in Wenchuan earthquake were of poor quality, many reconstructions in the area proved to be still jerry-built projects during the 7-magnitude Ya’an earthquake which killed over 200 people.

One notable fact about the Ya’an earthquake is that it was far less intense than the deadly Wenchuan earthquake five years ago. However, a school building, built with over 31 million yuan ($4,769,230) during the reconstruction after the Wenchuan earthquake, was damaged again during the Ya’an earthquake.

Wireless News from Hong Kong disclosed the jerry-built project—a junior high school in Lushan. Photo: screenshot from the Internet.

According to the media, the reconstruction of Lushan Junior High (芦山县初级中学) was funded by donations from Hong Kong. However, after the recent Ya’an earthquake, the building once against was graded as dangerous and people found Styrofoam panel and hollow brick in a collapsed wall.  

It was reported that Lushan Junior High School was severely damaged during the Wenchuan earthquake and thus was included in a Hong Kong funded project. The reconstruction was initiated at the end of 2011 and over 31 million yuan ($4,769,230 dollars) was spent on it.

   

In one classroom on the ground floor of the school, the wall was almost totally stripped by the earthquake and the blackboard had fallen on the ground, with three big characters meaning ‘Chinese Dream’ chalked on it, which presented a stark irony as the Chinese dream signals good and safe lives for common people. Photos: All from the Internet.

The building was put into use last September and it was said to be able to withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake.

Some netizens commented, “Such jerry-built projects are bound to be shoddy, even if they are reconstructed a hundred times. All they want is money (referring to donations) from common people!”

Also hit by the Ya’an earthquake was another building - Lushan People’s Hospital which was rebuilt with the funding from Macao, but it withstood the quake without any damage. The building is now ‘highly recommended’ as a rare example of made-in-China. Photo: from the Internet

In March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a 9-magnitude earthquake which spurred a giant tsunami in the aftermath. However, the casualty in Japan only amounted to one seventh of that in the Wenchuan earthquake. Besides, the casualty was mainly caused by the tsunami and not the collapsed buildings. Photo: images.baidu.com

Since Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the government planned to finish reconstruction in 10 years and the major part of the work has still not been accomplished. For a plain apartment building of 8-9 floors in Japan, a seismic study report would be a thick book of maybe two to three hundred pages, while for a building of the same height in China, the whole set of documents may be less than 200 pages. In Japan, it is usual for the reconstruction to be suspended for supervision, while in China; the supervising departments are mostly not functional at all. In Japan, it would take at least two or three months for a newly finished construction to be examined and in China, a few days would be ok.

Pan Qinglin, a returned overseas Chinese from Japan and CPPCC member, said that if the Ya’an earthquake happened in Japan, at most 3-5 people would get killed, and around 17 might be wounded.

It is not the earthquake that kills people but the toppled houses and buildings, landslides, and mud avalanche after heavy rain. Based on the official data, in the past several earthquakes, 98% of the casualties were caused by collapsed buildings.

Huang Jianguo, a NPC deputy from Hong Kong said, “If new buildings go up and then are damaged so easily, then there must be problems. The dirty secret behind the faulty buildings is corruption--money under the table.”

A netizen commented, “Earthquakes have cost so many lives. If we fail to eliminate the illegal practices hidden underneath, we are allowing more tragedies to threaten lives. If there is no retrospection, then what’s the point of all the memorials?”


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