UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0609-NGOs Have Role in China Relief

NGOs Have Role in China Relief, Says Amity Staff

A UMNS Report

By Linda Bloom*

The enormous impact of the recent earthquake in China makes the involvement of nongovernmental organizations there more important than ever, according to the staff of a Chinese Christian organization.

She Hongyu, assistant director of research and development for the Amity Foundation and its overseas liaison, believes it is impossible even for China's government to take care of everyone in a situation "where nearly 70,000 people have been killed and nearly 17,000 are still missing," with millions relocated.

The official death toll from the quake climbed June 8 to 69,136, with 17,686 people still missing, according to the Associated Press.

The May 12 massive earthquake and its aftershocks caused extensive damage in China's Sichuan Province. Amity and the United Methodist Committee on Relief are both part of Action by Churches Together International and UMCOR has sent $50,000 to Amity through that partnership for its relief work. However, more donations to UMCOR Advance No. 982450 are needed for any additional support of earthquake relief.

As the Chinese government has placed an emphasis on building the country's civil society, nongovernmental organizations have contributed to the development process, according to She.

"An enormous disaster like the earthquake provides an excellent opportunity for NGOs to get in with efficient work, care and concern for the victims and establishing the credibility of NGOs," She said in an e-mail message. "This is a huge platform for NGOs to develop and it is all up to individual NGOs to decide how they can best cope with the situation."

The flexibility and professionalism exhibited by such groups is an asset, in her opinion. "NGOs do pioneering projects and serve as ... a kind of reference for the government for administrative and policy-making purposes," She added.

Relief teams from Amity have travelled to 13 of the 15 areas hit by the earthquake, particularly focusing on rural areas not receiving much attention from others. "Amity staff, immediately after the assessment with the participation of the farmers, prepared relief supplies and distributed (them) the second day after the assessment," She said.

Coordinating supply distribution

In other developments during early June, Diane Allen, who oversees the China Program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, reported that Liu Lin will be coordinating Amity's distribution of supplies gathered by the New Hump Campaign in Shanghai.

The New Hump Campaign is a group of nongovernmental organizations. "The New Hump is probably taken from 'the hump,' which was a term for the Himalayan Mountains," she explained.

During the Sino-Japanese War from 1937-45, Western regions of China were unoccupied by Japanese troops, so supplies and people, including missionaries, entered or left the country by flying over the Himalayans - or "over the hump" - from or to India.

Liu will oversee distribution of the New Hump supplies in Mianyang and Mianzhu, where Amity did relief assessment work after the quakes.

A "desperate need" also remains for tents or materials like plastic material/sheets/tarpaulin and She has sent an appeal for the items to ecumenical partners.

"President Hu Jintao has personally visited tent factories to encourage workers to produce more and better tents," She wrote in the appeal. "However, with the limited supply of materials and limited staff at the factories, there is no way to produce the needed numbers of tents within a short period of time."

According to the New York Times, the Chinese government needs enough tents and other emergency supplies for people in an earthquake-scarred area that is roughly the size of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey combined. A U.N. official said as many as 3.3 million tents may be needed.

Relying on local partners

Allen said that Amity is relying on its local partners "to help itchannel aid where needed." In Sichuan Province, those partners includethe Sichuan Christian Council and the Zhigong Party, founded in the1920s by people who returned to China after being overseas, or wererelatives of overseas Chinese. It is one of China's eight democratic parties, which are comprised of special interest groups.

Christian Councils in the Shaanxi and Gansu Provinces also are partnering with Amity, along with the Gansu Overseas Friendship Association.

Allen believes that Amity operates with realistic project goals. "In a country where millions still live on less than one U.S. dollar per day, the needs can be overwhelming in certain regions," she noted. "That's where Amity's good preliminary and project assessment practices help insure resources are used effectively."

The Board of Global Ministries has sent around $10,000 for Amity's future project with earthquake orphans and also has contributed to the rebuilding of churches though the Sichuan Christian Council, according to Allen.

Connie Wieck, a United Methodist missionary studying in Chengdu, the largest city in Sichuan Province, said in her June 4 blog that the 24-hour earthquake coverage is over in China as some places return to normal.

"The leftovers of the earthquake are quickly being hauled away - the rubble cleared, the roads smoothed, the buildings reconstructed," she wrote. "But in Chengdu, the remnants of a frightened city still lay strewn about in small pockets here and there. They are little ghost towns of dusty tents and tattered tarps that still fill numerous neighborhood open-air nooks and crannies. My apartment compound is one of them; the adjacent park another.

"It's hard to believe, just one week ago today, another report of possible aftershocks caused schools to close and upper-story residentsonce again to collect their things for an outdoor sleepover. ... I now walk through my apartment compound and along the walkways of the park to find an eerie silence. The shelters are still there, but the people are not."

Donations to UMCOR's relief efforts in China can be made to International Disaster Response, China Earthquake, UMCOR Advance No. 982450. Online Giving

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.