Chinese on a Shaky Ground

Almost three weeks after the devastating earthquake in the Sichuan province in China that took the lives of about 60000 people and toppled schools and wiped out towns, the psycho-social effects of the natural disaster still lurk in the shadows and on the streets. With information about their parents and relatives still trickling and with an unsure feel to it, the children and students of the Sichuan province are easily moved to tears.
They say actions speak louder than words, but in the case of the 8.0 Richter earthquake in Sichuan, the numbers scream out more. Estimates put the death toll of students in the province at 4737, about 7 per cent of the total casualties in the earthquake. A total of about 16,000 students were injured in the earthquake, 20 per cent of the total estimate put forth by China’s Communist government.
What makes the situation ever graver for the survivors of the earthquake is the fact that most of them have almost no one left to turn to. With most of their own family dead, or missing, the students turn to their teachers for solace. But the teachers themselves are on the verge of a nervous breakdown resulting from both personal loss, and from the counseling that they offer. The students had hoped to feel more secure when they returned to their school routines, hoping that the resumption of their education would have been the psycho-social balm and bandage that would have helped take some of the stress off. Not forgetting that the school’s infrastructure is a mess, the chances of the teachers and the students recovering any time soon seem highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, the government of China has organized a high level mission to Sichuan – with support from UNICEF – to provide immediate assistance for children suffering emotional trauma. This has mostly been in response to the reports emanating from various social organizational camps, that the children undergoing stress and trauma need a higher level of support. Following a natural disaster, it is important to rapidly identify and register all separated and unaccompanied children. When children are suddenly separated from their parents and family, they are much more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
The newest problem that the government seems to be facing is the accusations from various parent organizations against corruption in school construction. Aggrieved parents and even rescuers have pointed to steel rods in broken concrete slabs that were thinner than a ball point pen among the 7,000 classrooms that were destroyed. With deep rooted corruption coming to the fore in the aftermath of the earthquake, this matter is sure to shake the very foundations of the Chinese government, pun unintended.
Vineet Kanabar

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