Quake reconstruction efforts ‘need careful evaluation’

Governments have promised to complete reconstruction planning within three months Copyright: Flickr/thenez

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[BEIJING] The recent quake-hit regions of China will only realise sustainable development with the integration of scientific analysis and research, say Chinese experts.

Amidst the nationwide mobilisation to combat the effects of the Sichuan earthquake — which took place on 12 May and has so far killed nearly 70,000 — officials at the National Development and Reform Commission and local governments promised in early June to complete reconstruction planning within three months.

But the rush has been lambasted by experts and scientists.

Speaking at a forum on civil society’s role in the reconstruction held in Beijing this month (6 June), Zhong Dajun, director of the Beijing-based Dajun Economic Research Centre, said that the bureaucratic practice of hastily drafting reconstruction plans has not considered the complexity of the quake damage or the already-fragile nature of ecosystems before the quake.

"Some of the previous development plans in the quake regions — such as constructing military nuclear research centres in Mianyang and developing chemical industries in several quake-hit cities — have been environmentally dangerous and, if the reconstruction plan is done quickly, these old approaches might be inevitably adopted," he said.

Liu Xuehua, an associate professor of environment at Tsinghua University, told SciDev.Net that the development plans should receive strategic environmental evaluation.

Chinese laws stipulate environmental evaluation for individual industrial projects but not general plans for regional development.

In an article published in China Environmental News (10 June), Wang Jinnan, general engineer at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, has appealed for the development of a rapid response mechanism, allowing general and regional reconstruction plans to go ahead now but be revised when new scientific findings arise on the quake impacts, geological or ecological fragility, and reconstruction failures.

Cui Peng, a leading scientist at the Chengdu-based Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment (IMHE) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the People’s Daily that many geological structures in the quake regions were loosened by heavy rain and further loosened by the earthquake.

He says IMHE scientists have developed an infrasound monitoring technique that could detect the occurrence of a landslide 30–40 minutes in advance.

"Monitoring stations should be placed on geologically sensitive areas to ensure the safety of local residents as much as possible," Cui says.

Separately, on 6 June the Sichuan government launched a provincial key laboratory on quake prevention engineering at Chengdu-based Southwest Jiaotong University, the first Chinese lab focused on engineering research into the geological characteristics of China’s southwestern mountains.

And on 9 June, the State Council, China’s cabinet, released a special statute to regulate the post-quake reconstruction. The statute, the first such rule for post-quake reconstruction in China, requires that governments invest in reconstruction, evaluate the environmental impact of reconstruction efforts, and increase scientific research in earthquake monitoring and disaster mitigation measures.