Sunday, April 18, 2010


Tenzin Lekshay

In 2008, Sichuan quake caused 69,181 known deaths, 18,498 people are listed as missing, and 374,176 injured as reported by the Chinese state medias. The most affected was the collapse of schools which led to the death of thousands of children. If we look at the school casualties, In Mianyang City, seven schools collapsed, burying at least 1,700 people. At least 7,000 school buildings in Sichuan Province collapsed. Another 700 students were buried in a school in Hanwang. At least 600 students and staff died at Juyuan Elementary School. Up to 1,300 children and teachers died at Beichuan Middle School. It was a devastated earthquake, which crumpled Sichuan into dust and debris. Multiple of complaints were launched by the distressed local parents on the weak structures of school buildings which were collapsed, but the authorities stood off and remained silent. Later, Tan Zuoren, a Chinese activist who investigated the deaths of children in schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake was jailed for five years for subversion. Many of his supporters felt that the authorities detained him because of his investigation on Sichuan quake.

This year, similar quake with the magnitude of 6.9 hits Kyegudo, Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, which was traditionally Kham region of Tibet. It was initially reported that around 400 people died of quake but the death toll drastically jumped to around 1,400 within a week. On April 18, Xinhua News Agency reported 1,706 death, with 256 missing, and 12,128 injured, out of which 1,297 of them severely injured. But exiled Tibetans estimated that around 10,000 Tibetans feared dead.


Geologists are looking into the causes of the recent Quake and somehow considered that it was not linked to 2008 Sichuan quake. Dr David Rothery of Open University in Milton Keynes, UK says "It’s not the same fault, it’s a consequence of the same bit of global tectonics, which is the collision of India with Asia. That’s the only link I’d make". he also mentioned that the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake resulted from a thrust fault, which happens frequently in the region near the Himalayas where India and Asia collided long ago. But the recent quake was a strike-slip event, which happens when there is sideways movement along a fault line. That’s the type of event that caused the January earthquake in Haiti.

According to the United States Geological Survey, "In the region of the April 13 earthquake the Tibetan Plateau is extending and translating east-southeastward within a larger zone of generally north-south convergence. Based on the location, depth, and moment tensor of the event, the Qinghai Province earthquake likely reflects the interplay amongst these major tectonic forces, dominated in this location by southeastward translation. The eastward motion of Tibet with respect to Eurasia further north is accommodated in part by the large intra-continental Altyn Tagh and Kunlun strike-slip fault systems. Several large historic events in the Qinghai Province have occurred on the Kunlun fault, which runs west-east approximately 300 km to the north of the April 13 event."

Prof. Brahma Chellaney however linked the previous quake with the recent one by saying that, "China's manmade quakes: After 2008 quake caused by dam pressure on geological fault line, today's quake hits Yellow river origin, cracks dam." The Changu (or Thrangu in Tibetan) hydropower dam was reported to have damaged by the earthquake. There is an overwhelming fear in Yushu that the nearby dam situated in Pathang in Kyegudo could burst any time, which might result to a huge loss of lives.

Independent researchers have found out about existence of 14 dams (constructed or under construction) in the area. International Rivers, an agency based in California reported that China plans to build at least 81 large dams on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Salween rivers in Qinghai Province and Tibetan Autonomous Region. Since Yushu County is located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, it becomes a cradle for building dams.


Soon after quake hits Yushu, chaotic atmosphere ran high among the public without proper facilities to help rescue people from the debris of earthquake remnants. Many buildings were collapsed, schools were toppled, power supplies cut off, and roads were blocked. Remoteness of area, high altitude and sub minus degree temperature added difficulties in the rescue operation.

Thousands of People’s Liberation Armies (PLA) were deployed in the affected areas but were mostly concentrated in the main town, leaving far away remote areas without any significant help. Even in the town, the rescuers were seen manually using spade and hands, digging the debris without proper machineries. However, the swift rescue operations were carried out instantly which deserves appreciation. But, one may wonder a presence of thousands of uniformed PLAs in the rescue operation. Since Yushu is predominantly a Tibetan populated area, due to the brobdingnagian nature of 2008 demonstrations inside Tibet, large military convoy were deployed in an attempt to crush the demonstrations to maintain stability in the region. Yushu is also known to be close to Tibet Autonomous Region, that helps the Chinese authorities to swiftly deploy the armies whenever TAR is in need of army, whether to control the instability, or in safeguarding the borders.

Aftermath 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Chinese leaders learnt a lesson on how to handle disastrous calamities. Premier Wen Jaibao visited Yushu to inspect and to console the bereaved family members. He assured of any necessary helps from the authorities. Chinese top brass leader, Hu Jintao shortened his scheduled visit to Brazil for the BRIC summit because of the earthquake and later visited the affected area. His Holiness the Dalai Lama applaud the Chinese authorities, monastic institutions and individuals who came forward to help with the relief work. Hu Jintao during his scripted trip to Yushu, inspected the situation and categorically emphasized on four priorities; rescue efforts, providing basic necessity (food, clothes and shelters), speeding up infrastructural construction, and the resumption of schools.


There are three things which needs to observe carefully about Yushu Earthquake. First, like Sichuan Earthquake, many schools in Yushu collapsed due to the defective constructions of school buildings. Since many of the hinterland, like TAR, Qinghai and Sichuan are politically under a strict vigilance of Central Government. But on the infrastructural level, CCP is comparatively less bothered due to a prevalence of rampant corruptions and a culture of nepotism. Individuals contractors with a high level network constructed sub standard buildings by earning a hefty amount of money, which were never been scrutinized by the government. Collapse of schools in Sichuan was a clear example of Government hiding the facts from public eyes. Mohan Guruswamy in my facebook commented, "I am sure that, like in Sichuan earlier, most of the deaths would have been caused by poor construction by well connected contractors. But then this will be a state secret."

Secondly, the Chinese state media reported that the magnitude of the recent earthquake was 7.1, but the United States Geological Survey pointed with 6.9 magnitude. USGS considered Yushu earthquake as one of the largest known historic earthquakes within several hundred kilometers of its location. But Kevin McCue, director of the Australian Seismological Centre, said: "It doesn't qualify as a major earthquake even though the result may be a major disaster." Chinese government made some revisions on the earthquake parameters but still sticks to 7.1 magnitude. So, the debate of whether this earthquake is prominent or not is a matter of how the Chinese government percieve it. With the dubious recording of high 7.1 magnitude, what will the Chinese government get and gain? Is it purposefully done to generate more international relief funds and donations, or does it means to get more International sympathy and consolations? Else, the geological department of China is apparently not qaulified enough to scientifically monitor the earthquake.

Thirdly, the underestimation of death tolls by the Chinese government is something which China often does in the past. But in this case, it may be due to the fear of an eruption of social instability and political trauma in the region where majority of the inhabitants are Tibetan. As of 18 April, the Chinese state media reported about 1,706 dead but the exiled community reported an overwhelming record of 10,000 dead tolls.


People of Yushu recently wrote an appeal to the Chinese leaders to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit the areas to bless and summon prayers for the deceased Tibetans. Majority of the Qinghai people belongs to Tibetan buddhist who are deeply religious. They have profound faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and considered him as their spiritual master. His Holiness too wishes to visit Yushu to give solace to the bereaved Tibetans who were severely affected by the recent earthquake. However, the question is whether the Chinese government seriously take this into consideration, taking the position of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a Splittist (Chinese mentality). If the Chinese government sincerely wishes to help the people of Yushu, the invitation sends a strong signal to the International community that China has a will to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which is very positive. But it is unlikely to happen as China always fear that his presence will steal the limelight of Chinese government's role in Tibet. Some hinted that efforts of Chinese rescue work is to win the hearts of Tibetan people. Prof. Robbie Barnett of Columbia University says, "I think the Chinese already are looking at the larger implications of this earthquake. they see it as an opportunity for the Communist Party to win sympathy through its generosity".

Photo credits:
1) Injured Tibetan girl by Reuters
2) Map of Hydropower project by

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the effort. I too think the casualty could be much higher than is reported by the Chinese media...but we should also be cautious in giving the exact number. 10,000 Tibetans dead! Making such statement is easy, but we should also back this up with facts and evidences. Otherwise, it will backfire on us!

    I agree with you. The Chinese will not grant 'permission' for His Holiness to visit the quake areas, although there's a saying in China that crises can be transformed into opportunities. But in this case, China will have a different opinion.

    Tragedy after Tragedy seems to be striking our nation, which is sad, but it has helped Tibetans on both sides of the Himalayas to stand in unity and solidarity for our common suffering....

    All we can do is not lose hope and work harder and smarter for our cause!