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Struggles in Qinghai — notes from the earthquake zone

China, April 20, 2010

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    Mercy Corps  </span>
    A view from our journey into the quake zone. Photo: Mercy Corps
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    Mercy Corps  </span>
    An emergency family tent near the Dang Dai Lu temporary camp. Photo: Mercy Corps
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    Mercy Corps  </span>
    The polluted and garbage-strewn water source that families are using in Yushu Park camp. Photo: Mercy Corps

Please note: this piece was by Yue Yao, Program Manager with Mercy Corps China, who is currently in Qinghai. I am receiving and posting his notes while he's in the field. He sent in this dispatch on April 18. I will be submitting these entries as I receive updates from him.

Today is the fourth day since the devastating 7.1 Qinghai Earthquake took so many lives, livelihoods and homes. I was anxious to get out to Qinghai and managed to depart our office in Sichuan the other day for the nearly two-day journey by air and over rough terrain to Yushu County. In collaboration with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in the quake zone, we were able to assess the damage and find ways to help some of the 100,000 now homeless victims. After setting up an emergency operating base just outside Jiegu town, I realized we really needed to get into the epicenter area and assess the damage situation first-hand.

My local NGO colleague and I attempted to hitch a ride with a pickup truck to Jiegu at noon on Sunday, but soon realized it was impossible to get into town by car. I jumped out of the back of the pickup and tried to direct traffic by myself, stopped a Jeep and finally asked a truck driver to move out of the way so we could return to our base to find alternative transportation.

People here are very friendly, even the policemen, so no offense was taken with my proactive approach. We finally managed to get around the heavy traffic by motorbike, but our first relief supply shipment was delayed for over 10 hours in reaching our base, despite the fact that the distance traveled was just few kilometers.

Our motorbike moved very slowly through all the displaced families, relief cargo trucks and emergency response personnel. We crossed over the Tongtian River (start of the famous Yellow River) and arrived at a small temporary camp that had just been set up. The Dang Dai Lu temporary camp was holding more than ten large Tibetan families, with about 120 people.

Since the camp was pretty close to the main road, it seemed they had tents and at least some basic food items on hand, yet when we talked to the elders and kids, they all mentioned more tents were needed since Tibetan families are often quite big. I discussed with my local NGO colleague the importance of having good coordination and an organized distribution mechanism in place to ensure the victims are helped as soon as possible. We planned to coordinate some emergency food distribution (with supplies from the local NGO) that night once the road cleared up.

Unfortunately, even after waiting until nearly midnight, the road was still jammed full of trucks and people and we could not get the shipment.

We went back out by motorbike to try and reach another big temporary camp we heard about, near Yushu Park. While our motorbike allowed us weave in and out of some vehicles, it was still slow going. We ended up going by foot instead. The living conditions in the Yushu Park camp we very rough. When I entered I noticed how huge the place was, with more than 5,000 people staying inside. My colleague and I walked into one tent after seeing a young lady struggling to care for her husband. He had injured his leg pretty badly during the quake, but they did not have any antibiotics to control infection. We felt so helpless at that moment and wished we’d had shipments of medical supplies to help out. We told the young woman we’d be back and bring medicine then.

We continued our walk through the camp and both soon recognized that there was no safe water resource there. People were collecting water from a small creek, which was heavily polluted and obviously full of bacteria, as there were also no public restroom/septic facilities in sight.

I have to stop this blog now, as more relief supplies just came in. Will send you more about Jiegu later.