Death Toll Rising in Kham

The Times of India:

Officials put the death toll from the 7.1 magnitude quake at 1,944 and the injured at 12,135. Official Xinhua news agency said out of the injured, 1,434 are in serious condition.

The official death toll started at 600 and was raised to 700 about a day after the Kyigudo quake. It stayed pegged in that general area for a while, as it is very rare for the Chinese government to revise their initial death tolls upwards. Bizarrely the worse a natural disaster is, the worse it is for the Chinese government politically. This is likewise why they moved the rating of the earthquake size from 6.9, which was confirmed by foreign scientific agencies, to 7.1, which has not been verified independently. The reasoning? Buildings that collapsed were rated to withstand quakes of 6.9 on the Richter scale, but not 7.1 While this was a natural disaster, the size of the devastation and the loss of life was exacerbated by Chinese government policies of forced relocation of Tibetan nomads into cinder block houses in cities and the shoddy construction that went into construction tens of thousands of “homes” in short order.

While the official Chinese government death toll continues to rise dramatically, the Tibetan Youth Congress has put out a statement reporting a death toll between 10,000 and 40,000.  Whatever the actual number of the dead is, I am certain that the Chinese government will not continue to upwardly revise their public assessment, and most certainly not as far as into a five-digit death toll.

High Peaks, Pure Earth continues to be an invaluable source for translation of blog posts from inside Tibet on the earthquake and how Tibetans are responding.  This post shows how angry Tibetans are at the Chinese government for the lack of notice or preparedness for this quake striking. This passage about shoddy building construction and a lack of government preparedness following the Sichuan quake which killed hundreds is particularly cutting:

After many school dormitories collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake, how come the Yushu prefecture didn’t take any notice? Don’t you know that Yushu is on the seismic belt? The school dormitories were not renovated-isn’t it possible to reconstruct? Apart from natural disasters, where is the responsibility of the related persons? What lessons can we learn from this experience? How is it that in the Prefecture headquarters area all the people’s houses are of such poor quality that they have broken like eggs? If these houses that could not withstand earthquakes are built privately, then shouldn’t the government issue some advice or policy regarding this? Likewise, in Yushu, why is it that in the aftermath of the earthquake, there is such a big difference to be seen between the people’s houses and government offices? Why is it that during a 7.1 Richter scale earthquake, the first was shown to be so poor and the second was so strong? I saw an electricity pole that had fallen at a 45 degree angle and behind that I saw people’s houses that had totally collapsed. This was almost satirical. If people say that these people’s houses had been built a long time ago, then how do you explain the new houses that farmers and nomads have moved into which are now in ruins? This is something to turn your stomach.

People are asking for accountability, for transparency, and for regulation to help prevent future natural disasters from being compounded by governmental errors as to make them true human calamities. These are not unreasonable requests in the slightest, but the Chinese government has never shown an inclination to be responsive to peoples’ needs at times when the Chinese Communist Party might be perceived as culpable. And when such requests come from Tibetans, the normal response from the PRC government has been to deploy even more soldiers and paramilitary police. With that in mind, I can’t say the chances of Tibetans getting the kind of response they want is likely.

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