Post-Disaster Recovery Plans after China’s Wenchuan Earthquake

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, the Wènchuān dà dìzhèn (literally “Great Wenchuan earthquake”) registered 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. As the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time, the Wenchuan (also known as Sichuan) earthquake took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. On November 6, 2008, China announced that it would spend about $146.5 billion over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.

Wenchuan

Natural disasters such as this have long been considered one of the major challenges confronting humankind. In recent years, both the incidence and frequency of natural disasters have increased. It is also evident that losses due to natural catastrophic events have increased dramatically over decades.

In this context, post-disaster recovery practices have become more common and research on disaster recovery within the academic community is also increasing. Many of these studies suggest that urgency and uncertainty in the aftermath of disasters lead to short-term decision-making that does not address, or may even amplify, pre-disaster social, economic and environmental weaknesses, which are the main challenges to long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate sustainability into the disaster recovery process.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) Faculty Fellow and Director of the Program on Chinese Cities Yan Song, Chaosu Li, a UNC Department of City and Regional Planning doctoral candidate, and their colleagues examined the local recovery plans that were made in response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Through a CURS-supported, National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. Song and her colleagues found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability.

The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake.  (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

The report’s findings reveal five challenges for incorporating sustainability into disaster recovery plans. These include: limited inclusion of environmental and equity goals; limitations to local planning capacity; insufficient enforcement tools; inadequate stakeholder engagement; and weak interagency coordination.

“The Chinese central government has emphasized ‘eco-reconstruction’ as the overarching goal for disaster recovery after the Wenchuan earthquake,” explained Song. “Nevertheless, disaster recovery goals at the local level were still economic-oriented.”

Song and her colleagues suggest the following four steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process:

First, efforts must be made to include sustainability within a plan’s visions and goals. Environmental goals and achievements should be evaluated in the promotion of government officials. Policy frameworks should be formalized, with visions translated into goals encompassing different dimensions of sustainability that can be measured and tracked. For instance, to achieve the vision of providing a sustainable future for its citizens, one goal could be “mitigating secondary flood hazards,” with an objective to “reduce peak runoff volume.” These policy frameworks must be shared with other government agencies to support the implementation of policy action items by other agencies.

Second, data-sharing mechanisms should be enhanced. “We recommend that planning departments at city and provincial levels possess backups of basic data for areas that are prone to natural disasters,” said Song. “Basic ecological, geological and socioeconomic data at the local level should be shared across government agencies.”

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Third, planning techniques such as hazard exposure analyses, ecological impact analyses and ecological carrying capacity assessments should be applied during the early stages of the plan-making process to ensure sufficient sustainability considerations. “In the Chinese context, where a top-down approach often plays the primary role in guiding urban planning, the central government can lead in designing tools and policy actions for sustainability,” explained Song.

Finally, interagency collaboration is an important way to alleviate the existing fragmentation in governmental structure. In the current local government setting in China, agencies involved in, or responsible for, sustainability-related issues include the Development and Reform Commission, the Department of Environment Protection, the Department of Land Resources and Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Forestry and Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. Because sustainability touches issues administered by this wide range of agencies, developing a framework for interagency coordination is critical for promoting sustainability.

“It is laudable that China has begun to recognize the importance of sustainability in post-disaster recovery planning,” said Song, “and it is especially notable that sustainability was prominently reflected in State Council policies for post-earthquake reconstruction. While this disaster provided a moment to make a statement about sustainable recovery, it also created a situation in which it was difficult to actually accomplish these goals. It may be that Chinese planning practices are able to achieve greater sustainability in situations that allow for more time and deliberation.”

Working with In-country Chinese Migrant and Low Income Families: Creating and Sustaining Partnerships on the Other Side of the Earth

Mimi Chapman

Mimi Chapman

The UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Mimi Chapman, Ph.D.
Professor, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work

Reading Room, New East
Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 12:30 – 1:45 PM
Free

Since 2010, Professor Mimi Chapman of the UNC School of Social Work and Professor Meihua Zhu of the East China University of Science and Technology have been working together to understand and address the needs of in-country migrant families and low income families in Shanghai, China. Frequent policy changes in China have made this work challenging and ever-evolving. This talk will describe their work thus far, discuss findings, and plans for future development.

Chapman_China

Mind the Gap: Broken Intercity Highways in China

Dr Xingjian LiuThe UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the Program on Chinese Cities presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Xingjian Liu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor,
Department of Urban Planning and Design, The University of Hong Kong

Reading Room, New East
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 12:30-1:45 PM

The success of intercity transport planning between Chinese cities is not always guaranteed, with broken intercity trunk roads (BITRs) as a major case in point. BITRs are highways that are: planned but unfinished; usually disconnected near administrative boundaries; and short in distance, but their completion would greatly improve linkages. BITRs have become a persistent and pervasive phenomenon in China. Aiming to shed more critical light on the issue, Dr. Xingjian explores the geographical distribution of BITRs in China and the relationship between BITRs and the underlying socioeconomic, political and geographical factors.

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Are Chinese households becoming more resilient to climate change? Large-sample evidence from the China Health and Nutrition Survey

Clark Gray

Clark Gray

The UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Clark Gray, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Geography, UNC-Chapel Hill

Reading Room, New East
Friday, March 3, 2017, 12:30-1:45 PM

Dr. Gray will present ongoing research with collaborators on the consequences of climate variability for human health and internal migration in China. This work reveals that heat stress can contribute to undernutrition and displace migrants, but that these effects have declined over time as China has developed and urbanized. The implications of these results for climate adaptation will be discussed.

http://www.josefschulz.de/

Photo: Josef Schulz http://www.josefschulz.de/

Practice of Urban Revival in Shanghai, China

CURS, the Department of City and Regional Planning, and the Program on Chinese Cities presents:

Practice of Urban Revival in Shanghai, China

Gu XiaokunA Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Gu Xiaokun, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Urban & Regional Studies.

Reading Room, New East
Thursday, February 2, 2017, 12:30-1:45PM

Shanghai has a long history of urban revival, dating back to the 19th century. As the first city in China committed to limiting the total amount of land allocated for construction, Shanghai plays a critical role in informing urban planning and development in China. In her presentation, Dr. Gu will discuss the history of urban revival in Shanghai, highlight several case studies, outline the main policy tools used, and identify new trends in urban revival since 2015.

Biography: Gu Xiaokun is a visiting scholar at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies. She received her Ph.D. at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. She was an associate professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning in Zhejiang Gongshang University from 2008 to 2014. Currently, she is an associate researcher at the Institute of New Rural Development in Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Dr. Gu’s research interests including urban and rural planning, land use policy and rural development, and urban revival.

Professor Zhendong Luo to Give Talk on New Urbanization in China

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Zhendong Luo, an associate professor at Nanjing University and a visiting scholar at CURS’ Program on Chinese Cities, will give a talk entitled “New Urbanization in China from the Bottom Up: The Characteristic Mechanisms & Trends of Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce.” He will speak from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in New East‘s Reading Room this Thursday, April 7. The talk is free, and light refreshments will be served.

Rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is a relatively new process in China. This process is systematically restructuring rural economic, social, and spatial environments, influencing the non-agricultural transformation of employment and sparking comprehensive modernization of country life and intensive urbanization of rural land. The advantages of rural areas—including low-cost entrepreneurial environments, specialty agricultural products, and local non-agricultural industry—and advances in e-commerce allow rural areas to overcome geographic constraints and join the national and global economy.

In his talk, Professor Luo will discuss these changes and how the importance of the capital and knowledge heading to the countryside help support rural sustainable development. For more information, please contact Todd Owen, CURS’ Associate Director, at towen@email.unc.edu.

Dr. Rohe Visits China as First Step Toward Establishment of Consortium for Urban and Regional Transportation

June 23, 2015

Bill Rohe (second from right) and Roberto Quercia (right) are presented with calligraphy to honor the emerging collaboration between UNC-CH and BJTU.

Bill Rohe (second from right) and Roberto Quercia (right) are presented with calligraphy to honor the emerging collaboration between UNC-CH and BJTU.

CURS Director Bill Rohe returned yesterday from a whirlwind trip to China during which he presented research in three cities (Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing) and participated in a signing ceremony expressing the intent to establish a Consortium for Urban and Regional Transportation. The Consortium will bring researchers from Beijing Jiaotong University’s (BJTU) Department of Urban Planning, School of Architecture and Design, and Institute of Urban Planning & Design together with faculty and staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC-CH) Department of City and Regional Planning, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS), and Program on Chinese Cities. Professor Rohe, director of CURS, was joined on the trip by Professor Roberto Quercia, chair of the UNC-CH Department of City and Regional Planning. Professor Yan Song, director of the Program on Chinese Cities, was also a signatory of the letter of intent.

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Announcing the 2015-2016 China Urbanization Research Proposal Competition

With support from the Dean’s Office, College of Arts & Sciences and the Provost’s Office, the Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) is pleased to solicit applications for its China Urbanization Research Proposal Competition. The Program on Chinese Cities Research Proposal Competition is designed to encourage faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to conduct research on Chinese cities. Continue reading