Tuesday, April 23, 2013

scmp: Tensions flare in remote Sichuan village waiting for quake relief



Keith Zhai in Lushan, Sichuan keith.zhai@scmp.com

In a remote village, people fight over scarce supplies while officials promise aid is on way

As relief materials pile up at major rescue centres in quake-hit areas of Sichuan province, villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government.

"It's been four days, four days. I haven't seen any government official bother to ask us how we have been coping," said 66-year-old Chen Zhongfen, from Shengli village in Taiping township, in an outlying part of Lushan county.

Lushan county was the epicentre of Saturday's quake, which has claimed 193 lives, with 23 people missing and more than 14,000 injured.

"I haven't got anything yet, and we've heard that the aid has all gone to central areas."

Chen was among more than 2,000 villagers in Shengli struggling to cope with post-quake life as rain began to fall. They desperately need more shelters and food. But four days into the disaster, villagers like Chen in rural communities say they have been left out of disaster relief efforts.

Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping chaired a special meeting of the party's Politburo Standing Committee yesterday on relief work in the quake zone, at which he vowed to keep searching for those missing, even though the 72-hour window that represented their best chance of survival passed yesterday. The meeting promised to ensure everyone in the quake zone had "food to eat, clothes to wear, clean water to drink, temporary places to stay and medicines to use".

[Villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government. Photo: Simon Song]

Villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government. Photo: Simon SongHowever, in Shengli village, more than 350 villagers had to share nine tents and 100 bottles of water. They said the few tents they had were becoming useless because they had no floors and the rain had been quite heavy over the past two days. Many villagers said they were running out of food and only had corn soup every day. "I can endure all this, but what about the pregnant women and the elderly in the village?" said He Xiaobing .

He, a 42-year-old farmer, had to move his family and all the belongings he could salvage from his house into a home-made tent crammed with about 20 people.

A fight broke out among 50 villagers in Taiping township who scrambled for a few boxes of water and instant noodles from rescue workers. Police were called in to disperse them. Villagers asked the local authorities why some people in Lushan county had received more than enough relief supplies while many rural people like them remained starving and homeless.

Wang Dong , Taiping's party chief, urged villagers to stay calm, saying "a lot of supplies will be coming soon, once the clogged roads are cleared". He said most of the resources were concentrated in Lushan, about 30 kilometres from Taiping.

But rescue worker Zhang Xueming said the roads were not the major problem. "Most of the tents are provided by companies and they all want them to be sent to major areas to attract more public attention."

Official media such as Xinhua have been giving relief efforts a positive spin, mainly focusing on heroic rescue operations in Lushan county and Longmen township, especially after Premier Li Keqiang's visit to the township on Sunday. Xinhua also reported yesterday that medical workers took care of a newborn boy in a tent serving as a temporary hospital in Taiping.

Yang Hao, a farmer in Shengli village, said: "We are the forgotten ones; nobody cares about us. I wish Premier Li had come to our town, then we wouldn't have today's problems."

View Yaan Earthquake in a larger map

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