Sichuan Earthquake Recovery

The Sichuan Earthquake: Helping Residents Rebuild Resilient, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities

On June 30, 2009, ISC hosted a Forum on Post-Earthquake Reconstruction and Sustainable Development in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, China. Sichuan is the site of a severe earthquake that struck on May 12, 2008, killing more than 80,000 people and directly affecting 40 million others, causing widespread devastation to buildings, roads, and vital infrastructure. In many villages, more than 95% of all buildings were completely destroyed. Some 13 months later, most experts estimate that only 40% of these have been rebuilt.

In the wake of the earthquake, Sichuan saw an outpouring of humanitarian and philanthropic energy on a scale unprecedented in China. Nonprofits and community groups have played a key role in working with government and citizens to address the lingering psychosocial legacy of the disaster, secure the safety and livelihoods of the survivors, and rebuild as quickly and sustainably as possible. While the earthquake was a terrible disaster, many communities in Sichuan are now using it as an opportunity to rebuild thoughtfully and sustainably, exploring ways they can live and work in better harmony with their natural surroundings, use fewer resources, and ensure a healthier and more resilient built environment for themselves and for future generations.

With its Chinese partners, the Institute for Civil Society and the Environmental Protection Bureau of Chengdu, ISC convened over 100 NPO leaders, community leaders, government officials, and experts for a day of discussion and sharing of best practices and lessons learned. Participants explored the many innovative and moving ways Sichuan's citizens are employing to emerge from this tragedy stronger and better prepared to meet the future. Speakers shared a variety of sustainable approaches to a range of topics including agriculture, building reconstruction, wildlife and ecosystem preservation, solid waste disposal, watershed and drinking water management, land use, post-disaster trauma counseling, education, economic development, job creation, and public policy. Participants learned from each other, shared their frustrations and successes, and developed strategies for coordinating their efforts and leveraging their collective strength going forward.

Speakers from outside Sichuan shared their own experience with post-disaster recovery and sustainable development. Betty Weiss, ISC's Director of Community Initiatives, discussed ISC's efforts to build local capacity in communities along the Gulf Coast of the United States following Hurricane Katrina. The striking similarities in the challenges Sichuan is facing, and the various techniques employed by ISC to engage and involve Gulf Coast citizens in taking control of their own recovery efforts, helped expand the participants' sense of what's possible. Speakers from Taiwan shared their own experiences with a devastating earthquake of 10 years ago, and the many methods they have employed over the long term to rebuild and recover.

The Forum is series of activities—made possible through the generous financial support of the Eileen Fisher company, its employees, and individual donors—that ISC will roll out over the coming year to help build the capacity of NPOs, community groups, government agencies, and citizens in Sichuan to deal with the long term challenges of the earthquake recovery effort.

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