United Methodists respond to China earthquake

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodists respond to China earthquake

May 19, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0853}

NOTE: This article was produced and distributed May 15 by United Methodist News Service.

An e-Review Feature
By Linda Bloom**

United Methodists are working with a longtime partner in China to provide immediate relief to those affected by the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province.

Yue Yaomeng (left) oversees the loading of tarps that will be distributed by Amity Foundation to survivors of the May 12 earthquake that struck the Sichuan Province of China on May 12. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is a partner in Amity, a volunteer organization that promotes education, social services, health and rural development in China. A UMNS photo courtesy of Yue Yaomeng. Photo #08-0856.

On May 15, China’s state-run media announced that the death toll from the May 12 earthquake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale, could reach as high as 50,000. The earthquake’s epicenter was in Wenchuan county, about 60 miles from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

Both the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and Church World Service are responding to the earthquake through the Amity Foundation.

Diane Allen, who heads the board’s China Program, said Amity “has been very swift” in both providing initial aid and giving ongoing reports to its overseas partners. The Amity Foundation is an independent Chinese voluntary organization created in 1985 by Chinese Christians to promote education, social services, health and rural development.

Amity’s project officer for disaster programs, Yue Yaomeng, had arrived in Chengdu less than five hours after the earthquake, which occurred around 2:30 p.m. local time May 12.

Allen said that Amity immediately released 1 million yuan, about $145,000, to purchase 6,000 bottle cases of drinking water, 2,400 cases of dried instant noodles and 1,700 plastic tarps for temporary shelter.

Three trucks were sent to Dujiangyan, where hundreds of students were trapped when several schools collapsed during the earthquake.

Distribution of water, rice, tarps

“Amity’s relief efforts will concentrate in Sichuan Province, as well as neighboring Gansu and Sha’anxi provinces that have also been affected by the quake,” Allen said. Those efforts will include the immediate distribution of drinking water, rice, quilts and plastic tarps.

Allen has visited Sichuan Province in the past, and she described it as a mountainous region that is “spectacularly beautiful.” But the mountainous terrain, she added, makes it hard to get vehicles there, particularly after the rain. Three days after the earthquake, rescuers were still cut off from some of the affected villages. 

For long-term relief, Amity has drawn up plans for a post-crisis phase that includes the reconstruction of houses, collapsed schools, township hospitals and village medical clinics, as well as of drinking water and irrigation systems. 

According to Amity’s official appeal, its relief work, administered through its local partners, will concentrate on families whose homes are uninhabitable because of structural damage and collapse, those who have lost more than two-thirds of their possessions, and the extremely impoverished in the affected regions.

Overseas relief is critical for the earthquake victims, Allen pointed out, because despite its economy, China “has one of the largest gaps between the rich and poor of any nation on earth.”

“China’s singular focus on the economy in the last 20 years has created a litany of social ills,” she explained. “There is a great disparity between those who live in the poor remote western provinces of China (where the earthquake occurred) and the relatively rich urban east, which showcases Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou, all large and prosperous cities.”

Poverty-stricken region

According to World Bank estimates, about 45 percent of China’s population live on $2 a day, with much of that population in the earthquake region. Migrant workers have flocked to the cities, sometimes leaving their children with grandparents in rural villages.

“Consequently, there are villages where adults of working age are clearly in the minority, as they have had to make the hard choice to go elsewhere for work, in hopes of returning in a few years, a little better off,” Allen said. “When an earthquake like this one hits a village where the majority of residents are the very young and the very old, it is doubly tragic.”

Ken Guest, a United Methodist and an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College in New York, agreed that the earthquake has made a bad economic situation worse in what is a beautiful and fertile, but basically rural, region. “Sichuan Province is one of the poorest provinces in the country,” he said. “A lot of the young people from these areas leave to find work.”

Guest, who has studied immigration patterns from China’s Fuzhou Province to New York, noted that when Chinese from Fuzhou go to the New York area in search of restaurant jobs, they rent their fields to internal migrants from Sichuan.

Sichuan also is a “hot spot” because it borders Tibet on the southwest end. “It’s an area of concern for the government in general in terms of political stability,” he said.

Donations to UMCOR’s relief efforts in China can be made to International Disaster Response, China Earthquake, UMCOR Advance #982450. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. The Advance number and name should be written on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations are accepted online at http://www.givetomission.org or by phone at 800-554-8583. 


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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