Despite discontent, officials hail rebuilding of Sichuan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Mainland officials have declared their rebuilding efforts in earthquake-ravaged Sichuan and two other provinces a 'decisive victory' ahead of the third anniversary, amid simmering discontent over many unanswered questions.

The triumphant assertion was first made by Premier Wen Jiabao during a visit to Sichuan on Monday, his 10th trip to the quake zone since the magnitude-8 tremor struck on May 12, 2008, claiming more than 87,000 lives.

With an injection of more than 1.02 trillion yuan (HK$1.22 trillion), Wen said the quake zone in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi had been transformed, and the goals set three years ago had largely been met.

Central and local government officials also wasted no time bragging about their accomplishments in completing nearly 95 per cent of the reconstruction.

More than 2.1 million homes had been rebuilt in the quake zone and thousands of new schools and hospitals were ready to be used, National Development and Reform Commission deputy director Mu Hong told a briefing yesterday.

Analysts said the apparent success, mostly focused on rebuilding infrastructure, came as little surprise given Beijing's generous input of manpower and resources and its determination to use the rebuilding process to showcase the country's power.

But it has yet to present a convincing case to declare overall victory for the rebuilding effort, which analysts said went beyond repairing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

'We have seen yet again the advantage of China's highly centralised political system and unbridled government power,' Beijing-based political analyst Professor Hu Xingdou said.

'But there is definitely a long way to go before we can boost the local economy, help restore local people's lives, console their broken hearts and, last but not least, learn the bitter lessons from the tragic calamity.'

Sichuan deputy governor Wei Hong also admitted that developing the local economy remained a challenge for authorities despite temporary success.

He promised to allocate a further 3 billion yuan in the next five years to eradicate poverty in 1,200 villages.

Many parents whose children were crushed to death when their classrooms were reduced to rubble three years ago say they have yet to receive justice.

Despite local officials' heavy-handed crackdown on anyone daring to voice grievances in the lead-up to the third anniversary of the quake, parents remain defiant, blaming poorly constructed school buildings for the high number of student casualties.

'It's true that we have moved into our new home, but I will not give up as long as the government denies that shoddy materials played a big part in my son's tragic death,' said the parent of a student from Beichuan Middle School.

The central and local governments have denied accusations that student death tolls were under-reported and said widespread allegations of poor quality construction at collapsed schools were unfounded.

Parents had hoped to build a memorial at the old site of the Beichuan school to bury the ashes of as many as 1,600 students who were killed during the quake, but the local government refused to give them permission.

'We've been waiting three years, but it seems we'll have to wait longer,' a father of a student who died.

Liu Yuting, whose son was also killed at the school, was desperate. 'It's getting hopeless. Few parents dare to speak out nowadays as the authorities frequently harass and intimidate us, and most of those activists who tried to help us have been jailed in the past few years,' she said.

At least three activists, Tang Zuoren, Huang Qi and Liu Xianbin, have been jailed on subversion charges for their investigation of the so-called tofu buildings. Artist Ai Weiwei who tried to look into the shoddy school buildings, was also arrested in March.

Although officials at the briefing dodged questions about shoddy buildings, Wen indicated there were flaws. 'We have seen huge losses in schools and hospitals in the quake,' Xinhua quoted the premier as saying. 'We have learned the lesson in the rebuilding process by setting high standards for schools and hospitals to make them the safest places.'

Tragic collapse

This is the number of students crushed to death after Beichuan Middle School collapsed three years ago: 1,600

Reconstruction Drive

Spending to date: 1.02 trillion yuan

Projects completed: 95%

Rural homes rebuilt or repaired: 4.8m

Urban homes rebuilt or repaired: 1.5m

Schools rebuilt: 3,839, 97% of total

Hospitals rebuilt: 2,169, 93% of total

Roads and highways repaired: 46,874km

SOURCES: USGS, CALTECH, MIT, AMERICAN GEOPHYSICAL UNION