China: Building back better and greener

Villagers in China’s Sichuan province work to rebuild a house Photo: UNDP China.
Villagers in China’s Sichuan province work to rebuild a house, part of a UNDP cash-for-work programme established following the region’s devastating 2008 earthquake. Photo: UNDP China

Before the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in southwestern China on 12 May 2008, 62-year-old Qing Liehua’s main source of income and food for his family was chicken farming. After the earthquake destroyed his home in Qinghe Village, Sichuan Province, however, he lost everything, including his chickens.

Qing was one of the 40 million people who were affected by the earthquake, which killed almost 90,000 people. The destruction left behind untold levels of poverty and loss in communities that were already living a marginal existence.

At the request of the Government of China, UNDP stepped in, launching a two-year, US$5.3 million programme to assist 20 of the poorest villages that were affected by the earthquake. With its already long-standing presence in China, UNDP was uniquely placed to assist.


  • More than 40 million people were affected by the devastating earthquake that struck southwest China on 18 May 2008.
  • At the request of the Chinese Government, UNDP launched a two-year $5.3 million programme to assist 20 of the poorest affected villages.
  • Through carefully managed needs assessments, 8,000 people have directly benefited from UNDP projects, and lives and homes have been rebuilt.

From the early days of the relief operation, it was clear that the recovery process would be long and difficult. In addition to meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of the tens of millions of survivors, the Government and aid groups needed to quickly establish the foundations of a sustainable, long-term recovery plan. This required bridging the gap between initial relief efforts and the longer process of rebuilding physical structures, restoring social services and livelihoods and creating a prevention and recovery process for future crises.

One of UNDP’s first steps was to launch a cash-for-work programme to assist the reconstruction of affected areas. Through this scheme, and others like it, villagers were paid when they pitched in to to help rebuild critical facilities, such as roads, irrigation and water supply. They also worked to restore farmland in an area that is heavily dependent on agriculture.

“By taking part in cash-for-work, I am able to support myself,” said villager Wang Bilie. “Working has helped me through this difficult time. I am busy and productive every day, and am able to financially support myself. I have hope for the future.”

As recovery continued, the need for a specific strategy to help the extremely poor became more and more apparent. Like most disasters, the earthquake had a disproportionate impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, including women, children and the elderly.

As a result, UNDP’s rehabilitation programme tackled issues like livelihood rehabilitation, legal support and social services for victims such as counseling, as well as ramping up energy and environmental planning and community-based disaster risk management.

UNDP’s disaster risk reduction training helped communities respond more effectively to subsequent disasters. In July 2010, torrential rains engulfed Luojiazui Village in Gansu Province. As the local reservoir overflowed with water and the dam threatened to collapse, the village committee safely evacuated villagers to higher ground, applying emergency response skills learned from drills.

In all, almost 8,000 people have directly benefited from UNDP’s work, demonstrating that trusted development partners can play a vital role in disaster recovery, even in places like China where the Government’s capacity to respond is already high. Lives and homes have been successfully rebuilt, local employment opportunities have been created and communities have been empowered to respond better to disasters while protecting their livelihoods and families.

Meanwhile, in Qinghe Village, Qing has not only received a new shelter and chickens, both with UNDP’s support, but he also benefited from the expertise and advice of Professor Shu Gang from Sichuan Agricultural University. Shu helped him to improve breeding techniques and secure a dependable market for his stock. As a result, although Qing now raises fewer chickens than before the earthquake, survival rates have increased and his annual income has grown by 10 percent.

“By raising chickens I have made a good profit and now other people in our village have begun to raise chickens as well,” said Qing, who is now helping his neighbour, Qiu Shibin, to establish a successful livestock business.

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