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IKEA and UNICEF aid China earthquake recovery

© UNICEF China/2009
David Mulligan receives a certificate of appreciation from UNICEF on behalf of the IKEA Social Initiative from UNICEF Representative in China Dr. Yin Yin Nwe at a press conference launching a report on the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.

XIHE, China, 7 July 2009 – Almost 14 months ago, on 12 May 2008, a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province, with its epicentre in Wenchuan County. The earthquake left 88,000 people dead or missing and nearly 400,000 injured. It also damaged or destroyed millions of homes, leaving 5 million people homeless in Sichuan and the adjoining provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, Yunnan and Chongqing.

The disaster had a disproportionately large impact on children.

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UNICEF China, with support from its partners, has provided about $20 million in assistance to tens of thousands of children in the quake zone; it will sustain this support until 2011, in line with the Chinese Government’s three-year reconstruction plan.

UNICEF-IKEA partnership

In August 2008, the IKEA Social Initiative joined UNICEF’s relief efforts and made an in-kind donation to meet the urgent shelter needs of displaced children in temporary settlements and those housed in boarding schools in Sichuan. The IKEA Social Initiative is the largest corporate donor to UNICEF programmes in the earthquake-affected region.

Besides supporting comprehensive relief work in hard-hit population centres in Sichuan, UNICEF China is targeting smaller rural communities that have not received as much attention. UNICEF is especially focusing on hard-to-access mountainous areas in Gansu province.

While Sichuan suffered the worst damage and casualties, Gansu was also severely affected but has received comparatively less assistance.

The partnership between UNICEF and the IKEA Social Initiative is therefore providing a three-year package of interventions in education, water and sanitation to 39 schools affected by the quake in Xihe County, Gansu province. As a result of these joint efforts, some 10,000 students from poor rural areas have been able to return to school in the area.

Schools damaged beyond use

However, the effects of the earthquake can still be felt in Xihe County, some 300 km from the epicentre.

© UNICEF China/2009
The IKEA Social Initiative’s support to some 10,000 students in 39 schools affected by the earthquake is highlighted in a photo exhibit entitled, ‘From Tears into Smiles: Reaching out to help children recover from the Sichuan earthquake.’

Yang Mei is a sixth-grader in Gansu province. During the quake, the roof of her family's home collapsed and her school was seriously damaged. "We were in the classroom when the earthquake happened. It suddenly felt like the classroom was moving. We all went outside," recalled Mei.

In Gansu, 6,000 school buildings were damaged beyond use, and there were too few resources to deal with the impact. But today, Mei and the other 250 students at Caoyang Primary School study in temporary classroom buildings installed by UNICEF, with access to water and sanitation facilities supported by the IKEA Social Initiative.

The prefabricated classrooms – which are equipped with quality education supplies, books and furniture – can be used for at least three years, until more permanent government school buildings are constructed. 

Here, children benefit from safe drinking water, sanitary latrines, washing facilities and waste disposal systems that they didn’t have before the earthquake. In addition, teachers and principals are being trained in child-friendly approaches to learning.

On 11 May, at press conference for the launch of the 'UNICEF China Earthquake One Year Report', the IKEA Social Initiative's David Mulligan received a certificate of appreciation, on behalf of IKEA, from UNICEF Representative in China Dr. Yin Yin Nwe. The event reaffirmed the common goal of the government, UNICEF, the IKEA Social Initiative and other partners to 'build back better' in Gansu province and the rest of the earthquake zone. 

Amy Bennett contributed to this story from New York.




UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on assistance to China’s quake-affected areas and the importance of returning children to their studies.
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