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UN Appeals for Int'l Assistance to Earthquake Disaster Recovery

The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday appealed for international assistance worth US$33.5 million to China's earthquake-hit region as early recovery support.

"It is the hope of the United Nations and the international community that China will quickly recover from this enormous tragedy and through this appeal we extend all our support and assistance," said Khalid Malik, United Nations Resident Coordinator in China, at a press conference here to launch the appeal.

The UN Appeal focuses on nine sectors: livelihood; shelter; water, hygiene and sanitation; health, nutrition and HIV and AIDS; education; protection of vulnerable groups; environment; ethnic minorities; and coordination and communication.

All these sectors address the needs of the survivors who have received basic assistance but will require more comprehensive aid over the next six months as reconstruction gets underway and before winter sets in, according to sources with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in China.

The UN system in China presented this appeal to the international community and hoped that governments, foundations and the private sector would partner with the UN on this important initiative.

The May 12 quake had killed nearly 70,000, injured hundreds of thousands and left over 5 million homeless. The disaster not only devastated lives and livelihoods, but also destroyed services and infrastructure.

In Sichuan and the neighboring Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, an estimated 5 million buildings collapsed, 21 million buildings were damaged and over 40 million people were affected by the quake.

According to the Chinese government, reconstruction could take as long as three years during which permanent structures must be rebuilt, livelihoods and basic services restored, collapsed schools and hospitals reconstructed and roads repaired.

This appeal was only the first step in the UN's mandate to a longer term assistance plan for the earthquake-affected areas, said Yin Yin Nwe, head of the UN Disaster Management Team in China.

Following the early recovery assistance provided through this appeal, the UN is planning a longer-term reconstruction program with its Chinese government counterparts, according to sources.

UN statistics shows the UN had already provided assistance to China worth US$17 million, of which US$8 million came from its Central Emergency Response Fund in humanitarian relief immediately after the earthquake.

The UN had numerous development projects in the affected areas prior to the quake. These would continue and many were redirecting assistance to quake victims.

"The United Nations will do everything it can to help the survivors meet their needs, with the aim to help them rebuild their lives and communities as soon as possible," Malik said.

The UN Appeal, which was supported by the Chinese government, was a strong testimony of the desire to work with the international community for the early recovery and reconstruction of the earthquake-hit areas, he noted.

The UN had considerable experience in disaster relief, recovery and reconstruction. It was using the lessons learned from major disasters such as the Pakistan quake of 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 to assist China in its recovery from the May 12 tragedy, according to sources with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in China.

On July 15, the UN concluded a two day international workshop on post-disaster reconstruction practices. Co-hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the meeting brought together leading experts from around the world who shared their experiences and lessons learned in recovering from disasters in their own countries.

(Xinhua News Agency July 17, 2008)

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