Disaster Relief in China: The Changing Role of Foreign Groups

by Joe

Mainland China experiences a major natural disaster approximately every five years. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake on May 12, 2008 killed 69,000 people in Sichuan Province.  The country has also been plagued by major floods and famine. Much of the disaster relief in the past ten to fifteen years has come from overseas. But recently, one of the highest-ranking officials from China took part in a televised address that demonstrated some of the latest technology that would make domestic disaster response more efficient. Modern China wants to begin to take care of their own programs.

The National Disaster Reduction Center

The National Disaster Reduction Center (NDRC) of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) is a specialized agency under the Chinese Government engaged in information services and supporting decisions on various natural disasters. It provides reference for disaster-management departments in their decision-making and technical support for China’s disaster-reduction undertakings by way of:

  • collecting and analyzing disaster information,
  • assessing disasters and emergency relief,
  • and analyzing and studying disasters using such advanced technology such as remote sensing.

Non-Government Organizations such as the Amnity Foundation have been stepping in to educate local authorities on the various tiers of relief – from medical care, to counselling, to providing basic necessities such as food, water and temporary housing such as tents.

Intervention of foreign groups is slowly disappearing. The building of a relationship with a trusted NGO or foundation in China means that when disaster strikes, the Chinese can marshal their own resources. This also reduces any legal liability by having the resources passed to a Chinese foundation and having them distribute and document where the monies are going. For example, if a Chinese disaster relief worker is injured, then the Chinese relief organization can be responsible for medical care.

The China Earthquake Administration

The People’s Republic of China established a National Earthquake Administration in 1971 to take charge of monitoring, research, and emergency response for earthquakes. It was renamed China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in 1998, mandated by the Earthquake Prevention and Disaster Reduction Act of PRC under the State CouncilEach provincial, autonomous regional, and centrally administrated municipal government also has its own earthquake administration that is under the direction of CEA.

Clearly we have been told that the Chinese do not want the great white savior entering their country with paternalistic attitudes. We have been told that, “We don’t need your help, but if you want to serve us, you are welcome to come.”

As it other areas such as religion, medicine and education, we must come to the Chinese as a colleague and trusted friend. The Chinese want to lead and we will serve them best if we follow.


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