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Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 17:29 UK

Rebuilding China's quake-hit zone

One year after the devastating earthquake that hit China's Sichuan province, the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing examines how far government reconstruction efforts have come.

A Chinese woman grieves for her lost ones in Beichuan
Nearly 90,000 people were killed or are missing, presumed dead

China is hoping to complete the reconstruction of areas hit by last year's earthquake one year ahead of schedule.

Officials now aim to get the work done by September next year, part of Beijing's efforts to show it is doing all it can to help the survivors of the magnitude-8 earthquake.

But to make sure that message gets through, China has tried to keep anyone who does not share that viewpoint quiet.

The worst earthquake to hit China in more than 30 years struck Wenchuan county at exactly 14:28 local time on 12 May.

Nearly 90,000 people were killed or have been registered as missing, presumed dead. Hundreds of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and factories were destroyed.

The speed of the response from the Chinese government received praise from both inside and outside China.

The authorities had obviously prepared well for an earthquake - a government reaction that stood in stark contrast to Burma's slow reaction to Cyclone Nargis, which had struck just a few days before.

'A happy life'

China's reconstruction effort began almost immediately. Within days, temporary homes that would eventually house 620,000 people were being constructed.

Chinese girl during class at her new school on 10 May 2009
Nearly 70% of school pupils have moved into new, permanent buildings

Officials have now released an array of statistics that detail the overall progress so far made in re-building the affected provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.

They said more than 21,000 post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction projects had already started. Total spending is expected to be 1 trillion yuan ($146.5bn; £96.9bn).

Nearly 70% of school pupils have moved into new, permanent buildings, and in rural areas about 80% of new homes have been completed.

"People in the affected areas will enjoy a happy life as soon as possible," said Mu Hong, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) last week.

And the government said this fast-paced redevelopment will not come at the cost of poor building standards.

It gives me a lot of hope because the central government is really trying to enforce building codes
Elizabeth Hausler
US engineer working in Sichuan

"[We will] strictly enforce the national building codes and technical standards so as to ensure quality on safety," said an NDRC statement.

Elizabeth Hausler, a US engineer working in Sichuan, said China was trying to construct stronger buildings - and she is in a position to judge.

Dr Hausler, the founder of non-profit organisation Build Change, has spent much of the past year in Sichuan helping farmers build earthquake-proof homes.

"It gives me a lot of hope because the central government is really trying to enforce building codes," she said.

But there is no doubt that many structures built before the earthquake had been badly constructed.

Dr Hausler said the main problem was that many had been built with un-reinforced masonry walls.

These walls were made of concrete or brick, but not reinforced with steel.

In many cases, pre-cast concrete planks were then laid on top of them - without being properly connected - to form floors and ceilings. Many of these buildings collapsed easily in the earthquake, said Dr Hausler.

Sensitive issues

But the Chinese government is keener on emphasising the achievements made since the earthquake hit than on looking back at past mistakes.

In the run-up to the first anniversary of the quake, China's state-run media has been giving examples of ordinary people's improved lives.

Villager Wang Quan is now able to enjoy breakfast in his new two-storey home, according to China's Xinhua news agency.

Huang Fumei, 41, holds a picture of her son Shuangshuang who was killed on 12 May
Official figures show 5,335 children died when their schools collapsed

Mr Wang, from the village of Chaping just outside the city of Dujiangyan, has been able to move in sooner than he thought.

"My wife and I had prepared for the worst, to stay in prefabricated houses for three to five years," he told a Xinhua journalist.

Officials are making sure this is the image that will be beamed across China in reports marking the earthquake's first anniversary.

A directive handed out to at least one Chinese national newspaper makes it clear that China's Central Publicity Department is in firm control of media output.

"Media organisations cannot report without authorisation or make a big deal of sensitive issues about earthquake-affected areas," said the note.

One of the issues that will get little publicity in the official Chinese media during the anniversary is the collapse of so many schools.

Great milestone achievements have been made, which demonstrates the indomitable and unyielding heroic mettle of the Chinese people
NDRC statement

Parents were promised an investigation into why these schools seemed to be particularly vulnerable, but so far no report has been published.

All the government has said is that its investigations have so far found no human negligence led to the collapse of any building.

Many parents also complain they have not received the full compensation they were promised after the deaths of their children.

This issue was widely reported by Chinese media organisations in the immediate aftermath of the quake when China's usual tough censorship rules were temporarily relaxed or ignored.

But that period ended a few weeks after the earthquake, and has not returned.

The authorities have also been trying to restrict the foreign media, including the BBC, from freely reporting from the earthquake zone.

Foreign reporters have been subjected to harassment and prevented from filming in certain places.

This appears to be part of the Chinese government's attempts to control how the earthquake is remembered.

The NDRC praised the government and Communist Party's "firm leadership" in rebuilding quake-hit areas.

"Great milestone achievements have been made, which demonstrates the indomitable and unyielding heroic mettle of the Chinese people to defeat all difficulties," it said.

This is how China's communist leaders want to remember the earthquake.



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