Remote villages in Gansu need emergency assistance

20 June 2008
Students sit on the ground and use their stools as school desks during classes under trees in the afternoon at Qinglian School, Guochuan Village, Qingshui County, Gansu Province.
UNICEF/China/2008/XU XIN
Students sit on the ground and use their stools as school desks during classes under trees in the afternoon at Qinglian School, Guochuan Village, Qingshui County, Gansu Province.

BEIJING, 20 June 2008 – According to provincial government reports more than 6,500 schools in Gansu Province were severely damaged and thousands of school classrooms were destroyed in the 12 May Wenchuan earthquake. A total of 1.2 million people have lost their homes. Gansu borders Sichuan to the north.

Forty children were killed and 172 injured in the earthquake. Gansu Province schools operate on a "daylight saving" schedule so at the moment the earthquake struck children were on their way back to school after a long midday break. Gansu is the second worst-hit province after Sichuan.

"The children's lives have changed so dramatically since the earthquake. All of the children in the village now live in tents. About 50 percent of our students have stopped going back to school." A fifth grader English teacher with Bikou township primary school said. "We also find the students less focused in class."

Longnan prefecture, at the southernmost point of Gansu, was particularly hard hit, especially in mountainous areas. The average annual rural income is about RMB 2,000 per household. Most of the houses were constructed of mud bricks and were levelled by the earthquake. Village water sources are mostly open streams that are unsafe. UNICEF field missions have noted that parts of rural Gansu are still in need of basic emergency assistance.

The education sector in the 10 affected cities and prefectures has been badly hit. Most of the schools have resumed classes in tents or prefabricated classrooms. As of June 17, 8,000 sets of children's clothing and four ambulances from UNICEF reached the worst affected communities. In the coming days UNICEF will deliver 200 large school tents, 60,000 student kits and 2,000 teacher kits to Longnan prefecture.

Local officials say the most urgent education needs are: teaching and learning equipment classroom supplies and sports equipment; portable toilets and safe water facilities; support for accommodation of teachers whose houses have collapsed and coordinated psychosocial support for all affected persons particularly children.

Gansu is one of the poorest provinces of China with a population of 4.5 million living under the poverty line – approximately 17 per cent of the total provincial population. The earthquake measured 7.5 on the Richter scale in Longnan prefecture, about 200 km away from the epicentre at Wenchuan. The prefecture is a mountainous area where frequent aftershocks and rain continue to cause rock falls and landslides, making it extremely difficult to reach remote communities in greatest need of assistance. 
 
"Toilets have become a problem as more students come back to school after the earthquake," said Mr. Mao Zhongrui, principal of Houqu primary school, in Bikou town. "The toilet has been severely damaged and could collapse at any moment in the aftershocks. But we have no other choice but continue to use it."

Media contacts

Liu Li
Communication Specialist
UNICEF China
Tel: +86-10-85312612

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