Quake zone comes back to life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2012, 12:00am

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Sichuan province says it has virtually completed reconstruction work after a devastating earthquake almost four years ago - at a total cost of 1.7 trillion yuan (HK$2.09 trillion).

At a State Council press conference yesterday, deputy Sichuan governor Wei Hong said 99 per cent of projects were completed.

He defended a controversial plan to turn Wenchuan county's Yingxiu township - the epicentre of the magnitude 8 quake on May 12, 2008, that killed 86,633 people in Sichuan- into a top tourist site after criticism that making money out of a disaster was inappropriate.

Wei said tourists could enjoy the region's ethnic culture and natural tourism attractions, and help to sustain the local economy. 'No matter what approaches we use to promote and develop local tourism, we need to consult and listen to the local people,' he said. 'After all, they have to live their own lives there.'

One internet user expressed shock at the plan to develop tourism in the disaster zone. 'People who travel are looking for fun and relaxation,' they wrote. 'Why on earth turn a post-quake zone into a tourist area? Chinese merchants are abandoning all morals.'

The deputy chief of Wenchuan's propaganda office, Xie Lushuang , was quoted by the Beijing Morning Post yesterday as saying that many businesses had moved away from Wenchuan and many locals had lost their jobs. 'Developing tourism is the only way out,' Xie said.

Wei said 1.7 trillion yuan had been spent on reconstructing 142 counties in Sichuan after the quake. After more than three years of reconstruction work, Wei said 99 per cent of 29,692 projects were completed.

He said housing problems had been resolved for more than 5.4 million households and more than 200,000 peasants had been relocated.

The disaster had hit 9,524 families hard and resulted in 1,449 lone elders, orphans and disabled people.

Sichuan received 20.1 billion yuan in public donations from the mainland and overseas. The money was being managed and monitored by the Sichuan charity association, the Red Cross Society of China and the provincial finance department.

However, the credibility of the mainland's Red Cross Society has been hit by a series of scandals and Sichuan's earthquake disaster alleviation fund has also been compromised. In 2009, auditors uncovered 200 million yuan in embezzlement and falsified spending records after one trillion yuan was earmarked to rebuild cities and towns.

Internet users urged the provincial government to publish detailed accounts online for public auditing in order to win people's confidence.

A 36-year-old Wenchuan teacher and quake survivor said living standards had improved but she was not sure about converting Wenchuan into a tourist site because 'how many tourists would like to visit a place filled with sadness and tears?'

'But there is love around the place. Maybe others could experience it.'