11/10/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Six months after Sichuan earthquake: tent villages against frigid winter

Beijing continues to announce grandiose reconstruction, but the displaced are still living in temporary shelter, with few resources and isolated from everyone. Today, a strong earthquake struck Qinghai, without claiming victims.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Beijing has announced that it will spend more than 1 trillion yuan (100 billion euros) over 3 years to rebuild the areas destroyed by the earthquake on May 12 in Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi. But the displaced are facing winter while still living in temporary shelter, and with few resources. Meanwhile, a strong earthquake of 6.5 on the Richter scale this morning struck the western province of Qinghai, but state television says there are no victims.

The strong quake struck mainly in the mining center of Golmud and the regional capital of Xining, and various mines have been closed, but there is no news of significant damage. In the area of Da Quidam, near the epicenter 161 kilometers north of Golmud, mud huts collapsed and schools have been closed.

Meanwhile, Beijing has revealed grandiose projects for reconstruction after the earthquake on May 12, in order to create "more solid and secure schools, hospitals, and other public structures," services, commercial centers, a new agricultural and environmental system, according to the state news agency Xinhua. So far, according to official figures, Beijing has spent "only" 7.37 billion euros on aid and reconstruction. Donations from within China and from abroad have exceeded 6.75 billion.

In Sichuan, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tents, under the frigid rain of an early winter. The earthquake killed more than 88,000 people and destroyed entire inhabited areas, damaged about 50,000 villages, and left 5 million people homeless and 1.5 million unemployed.

But "the government asked every one of us to return and pledged to help us rebuild our homes and our lives," says Wang Yucai of the village of Wachang, near Lake Tangjiashan.

In June and July, the government asked more than 9,000 residents of the county of Beichuan to return and rebuild their homes. Entire families returned, with children and elderly. But they have found themselves isolated, with the railway more than 30 kilometers away, in the center of Duba, 2,000 meters above sea level, now blocked by the mudslides in September. The only access road has also been blocked by the mudslides resulting from the torrential rains six weeks ago, which killed dozens of survivors of the earthquake and left tens of thousands more people homeless.

Everything is in short supply. The government has promised loans of up to 50,000 yuan, and subsidies of 16-22,000 yuan for rebuilding homes, but so far has given only a daily subsidy of 10 yuan (one euro) and half a kilo of rice, for just three months. Only in October were electricity and telephone connections restored.

"Winter is coming soon, but we don't even have adequate materials to keep us warm," Wang tells the South China Morning Post. "It looks impossible to build permanent homes before the winter, as we have yet to be informed by local cadres of any reconstruction plan." "I've seen on television that people all over the country are donating clothes, blankets and duvets for us," he adds. "But when can we get them?"

Everywhere, there are delays to the reconstruction work. In Yuziki, a village in the area of Yingxiu, the people are still living in improvised shelters with cement floors and walls made of metal or wood, some of them covered with cement tiles. But the people are trusting: they say they are "lucky" because they have received subsidies of 400 yuan (40 euros) and because there have been frequent "visits" by national leaders. Although Jiang Yongfu, head of the local communist party, admits that "we do not have enough money to rebuild the houses, and not even enough land to support ourselves" with agriculture.

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