China: UN Appeal for Wenchuan Earthquake Eary Recovery Support

China: UN Appeal for Wenchuan Earthquake Eary Recovery Support


On 12 May 2008, the Wenchuan Earthquake struck 92 km north of the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, causing massive devastation across eight provinces of the People’s Republic of China. The earthquake affected some 46 million people. It took over 70 000 lives, destroyed almost 6.5 million homes and left millions homeless, injured, missing, or separated from their families.

Over 400 000 people lost their jobs in urban areas and more than 5 million farmers lost their harvests. The counties of Anxian, Beichuan, Jiangyou, Mianzhu, Pingwu and Shifang were among the worst affected. Entire villages were destroyed and several rural towns had to be completely evacuated. Just when humanitarian needs were most acute, damaged road networks rendered many of the worst hit villages inaccessible. Extensive damage to sanitation, water distribution and public health services gave further cause for human suffering.

Despite a swift national response and generous international support, needs remain high – especially since recovery efforts were set back by torrential rainfall in September 2008. The rains brought landslides and floods to the Sichuan province, destroying vast areas of crops and creating further hardships for those still living in shelters. The UN China Appeal for Wenchuan Earthquake Early Recovery Support was launched on 16 July 2008 and appealed for a total of USD 33.5 million. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Development Programme are the lead agencies for livelihoods, with FAO supporting Government efforts in the agricultural sector. 

Challenges facing food security and livelihoods

Widespread crop and irrigation destruction and the loss of seed stocks, farm tools and machinery have left millions of farmers’ livelihoods eroded. An estimated 30 percent of the 2008 wheat crop has been lost, along with 60 million bags for edible mushroom production. Some 100 000 hectares of paddy fields have dried out because of damage to irrigation systems. The livestock sector has also suffered heavy losses, including 32 million animal deaths and the destruction of 27 million square metres of shelter.

The depletion of vegetation due to landslides and quake-lakes has seriously affected the livelihoods of forest farmers and caused tremendous ecological damage. In the aftermath of the disaster, many families have to prioritize rebuilding their homes, leaving no funds available to replace productive assets. This has left them exposed to the risk of a vicious circle whereby the lack of investment leads to reduced production and, once more, inability to invest. Impoverished by the loss of assets, farmers face the additional challenges of degraded arable land, commercial forestry, access roads and reservoirs.

The seed production system has also suffered massive blows, creating further difficulties for farmers who need to replace lost grain. In the transition from emergency to recovery, continuing support is needed to rehabilitate agricultural livelihoods and restore the food security of China’s most vulnerable earthquake victims.

FAO response

In the context of the Appeal, FAO requested USD 2.5 million to assist the Government of China in restoring agricultural livelihoods. So far, FAO has raised USD 2.4 million thanks to support from the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden. With the funds received, FAO is working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and relevant line ministries through a two-pronged approach:

  • In the most affected villages, key inputs to revive production of a “lead crop” are distributed to farming families. Activities are underway to boost production and marketing of vegetables, garlic, potatoes, canola, tea, plums, pears and edible mushrooms.
  • In severely affected areas with diverse input needs, farmers receive cash vouchers to procure inputs of their choice in local stores, thereby strengthening village-level agricultural input trade.

Further needs

Further funding is urgently needed to kick-start rehabilitation of the livestock, aquaculture and forestry sectors in Sichuan province. All of FAO’s ongoing and forthcoming earthquake rehabilitation interventions take the form of pilot projects. They are designed to set innovative, sustainable and safe examples for a much larger Government-led rehabilitation process expected to take off in 2009