Almost four weeks after the devastating earthquake in south-western China, people in the worst affected areas are still struggling. In a clear break with the past, China has accepted foreign aid on a large scale. Germany is among the many countries to have responded quickly to requests from Beijing for specialist help.
Loading goods in Berlin for a mobile hospital in Sichan province
A man is brought into a hospital in Dujiangyan, one of the towns in Sichuan badly damaged by last month’s quake. 37-year old Yang Yong Hua fell from a roof while helping with the relief effort, injuring his back.
“We are all victims,” he says. “We couldn’t go back to our homes after the quake so we came to Dujiangyan. Our homes were completely destroyed, we have nowhere to go.”
Yang is in agonising pain and starts crying as he recalls his experience. His back injury is being treated in an unusual location -- on a six lane motorway in the outskirts of the city.
A mobile hospital for Dujiangyan
That’s where the German Red Cross has set up its mobile hospital for Dujiangyan. There’s an operating theatre, X-ray machines, wards for both adults and children. The patients are all housed in white tents on the asphalt.
“We are here to replace the seven hospitals of the city that were damaged by the quake,” explains the hospital manager Holger Schmidt. “We cover an area of roughly 650,000 people and replace, if you like, the local health structures, so we have a normal hospital service here and deal with all sorts of illnesses, as well as with childbirths -- and of course accidents.”
Since the first patients were admitted 10 days ago, Schmidt and his team of mainly Chinese doctors have already delivered three babies. The demand for their services is overwhelming -- about 600 outpatients show up every day.
Skin disease exacerbated by quake
The 21-year-old Lei Tao is suffering from lupus -- a disease that affects the immune system -- “Our house collapsed right in front of me,” she says.
“Before the quake, my health was good but two or three days afterwards I had difficulties breathing and I developed this rash that you can see on my face and hands.” Lei Tao is being treated by a dermatologist from Shanghai who was sent to the Red Cross Hospital by his work unit.
But Schmidt says the 10 German doctors and nurses plan to go home in a few weeks’ time: “We are not here to run the hospital. We are here to set it up and to train local staff so they can run it themselves.”
German water purification equipment
A few kilometres down the road, there is another camp with distinct German features. German bread is in ample supply when some 20 volunteers of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief return from a day in the mountains, where they are setting up water purification facilities.
One of the volunteers, Frank Winterfeld, says he’s amazed by the speed of the recovery effort: “Just a few weeks after the quake, the first semi-permanent houses have been built. They have pipes and will eventually have a proper water supply. Unlike other disaster areas we’ve worked in, we are not providing water to individuals but we are helping them to set up a water network.”
Both the Red Cross Hospital and the water treatment equipment have been warmly welcomed by the Chinese. But the Germans are not the only ones providing assistance to Sichuan. There are Italian and Japanese tents and supplies from many other countries. In a clear break with the past, when Beijing tended to refuse outside help, the Chinese authorities have this time signalled that they can’t go it alone. The reconstruction effort is only just beginning.