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After the China quake: Rebuilding schools, reducing risks

By Oxfam

It's Children's Day in China, and the memories of the thousands of young people lost in the recent earthquake are fresh and painful. But for those who survived, there is work to be done to restore a semblance of normalcy to their lives. While Oxfam continues to carry out emergency relief work in Sichuan and Gansu provinces—with a particular focus on survivors whose needs have been overlooked by other aid providers—the agency has undertaken construction of ten temporary school buildings to help children resume their studies as quickly as possible.

The first of the schools is scheduled to open this month in the city of Pengzhou. The building is constructed out of strong, lightweight materials, and it's designed to last for ten years or until it can be replaced by a permanent structure. Its outer walls are made of Styrofoam encased in thin steel sheets, and inside are classrooms, offices, and a cafeteria. It is a primary school that will serve 932 students, and it's supplied with desks, blackboards, and other supplies—all purchased as close as possible to the earthquake-affected areas in order to boost the economy of the stricken region.

A central feature of the Pengzhou school is that, like the others to come, it is earthquake resistant.

"It will be able to withstand a quake of up to 7.0 on the Richter scale," says Howard Liu, Director of Oxfam Hong Kong's China Unit.

After a disaster, it's crucial for aid providers to do whatever possible to ensure that the affected communities won't have to relive the terrible episode one or two or ten years down the road.

"We can't prevent earthquakes," says Oxfam risk reduction specialist Jacobo Ocharan, "but we can try to prevent future earthquakes from causing so much suffering."