RELIEF organisations were assessing the situation in central China after the earthquake that hit Sichuan province on Monday. Figures on Wednesday suggested that at least 15,000 had died, 20,000 were injured, and 18,000 were believed to be trapped under rubble. More than three million homes are reported to have been destroyed.
All the figures are acknowledged to be underestimates. The Amity Foundation, the only member of ACT International (Action by Churches Together) working in China, said 60,000 were reported missing in Wenchuan County alone.
Agencies have commended the swift response of the Chinese government. Within hours, they had mobilised 50,000 troops.
The earthquake destroyed up to 80 per cent of buildings in Beichuan County. Branches of the Red Cross Society of China have begun to provide tents and relief supplies.
Many rescuers are reported to have walked up to 45 miles to get to the epicentre. A team from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was leaving on Tuesday for Chengdu, the provincial capital of Wenchuan, to assess the situation there.
By contrast, in Burma, MSF staff are reported to have been ejected from the area worst affected by the cyclone, and 200 of its workforce in Bogolay have been confined to the town. A spokesman for the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a partner of Christian Aid, said on Tuesday: “It is obvious that the Chinese government has the will and capacity to deal with this situation. However, there is another tragedy going on in Burma, where the government is simply not in a position to deal with the magnitude of the crisis.”
Christian communities in mainland China reacted swiftly: the Anglican Church in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Christian Council have donated money through the Amity Foundation, and the RC Church in Hong Kong through Caritas. Church World Service (CWS) is supporting Amity, which has launched an emergency appeal.
Amity will focus its relief efforts on 8000 of the most vulnerable families. In the longer term, it has pledged to rehabilitate or construct houses, schools, hospitals, and drinking-water systems.
The Scottish Churches’ China Group (SCCG) is a partner of Amity. The Church of Scotland is a member of SCCG, and one of its ministers, the Revd Colin Renwick, convenor of the World Mission Council, called on Wednesday for all churches in Scotland to pray for those affected by the earthquake.