China, a Year After the Deadly Sichuan Quake

Editor's note: To protect the identities of some interviewees who feared government retribution for their statements, we have changed some names and omitted geographical information for some communities.

In the mountains of Pengzhou, less than 40 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that shook the Sichuan province May 12, 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Lu stand proudly in the middle of their modest room in a block of temporary housing.

What little they recovered from their house fills the room. Plastic ivy garlands -- and a pair of wet socks -- hang from the ceiling. Their outfits have been assembled from donations from relief organizations.

After their home collapsed in the earthquake, they set up a ramshackle tent on their crumbled foundation, where they lived for six months. Then, as the harsh winter approached, they were allocated a room in this temporary housing block.

"We constantly worry about our children and friends who have not found jobs after the earthquake. We wonder how we will pay for the future," reveals Mrs. Lu. Due to these financial constraints, they recently celebrated the wedding of their only daughter in this cold tin-roofed room.

The couple is still eagerly awaiting the day when they can move from these cramped quarters to a house of their own. However, in this mountainous region at risk of landslides and future earthquakes, land for rebuilding has not yet been allocated.

Stories such as these abound in the region affected by the earthquake, which shook the Sichuan province of China one year ago. The scope of the destruction was massive. The quake toppled villages and turned buildings to rubble. When the dust settled, millions of lives had been disrupted. Almost 80,000 were confirmed dead, and more than 370,000 were injured.

This spring, locals are still struggling to find a semblance of normalcy. According to the United Nation's Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 5.5 million homes were destroyed and between 5 million and 11 million people were left homeless. Losing most of what little they had, these people essentially became refugees in their own country.

They lost not only their homes but also their communities, livelihoods and access to health care.

Sichuan's Struggle for Survival, One Year After the Quake

Although the disaster quickly garnered worldwide attention and aid during the acute phase, the global consciousness has since shifted. It is easy to forget that, a year after the quake, the important task of long-erm rebuilding and recovery has only just begun.

The transition from acute emergency relief to sustainable long-term recovery and development activities is a challenging path fraught with innumerable obstacles. While the majority of disaster response focuses on the acute needs, long-term recovery often proves to be less straightforward.

One quickly moves beyond the numbers and statistics while spending time with the affected families. A firsthand view of the recovery process a few months after the quake as well as six months later reveals the issues pressing on the minds of residents of the region: the long wait for permanent housing and the lack of viable long-term jobs, not to mention the psychological aftermath.

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