The devastating earthquake in Wenchuan a decade ago left extensive damage in substantial parts of Sichuan Province. Ten years have passed by in the blink of an eye. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region took an active role in the reconstruction which took eight years to complete, and the works were successfully concluded in 2016, giving the earthquake stricken area a brand new look. Recently, colleagues in the Development Bureau (DEVB) and I joined the Chief Executive to visit Sichuan to attend the Hong Kong-Sichuan Co-operation Conference and an event in memory of the victims of the earthquake that took place 10 years ago. The delegation included quite a number of professionals who had participated in the reconstruction. Together we witnessed the achievements of the reconstruction project
While in Sichuan, I attended a sharing session of “5.12 Reconstruction - Past, Present and Future” organised by the DEVB, during which teams of teaching staff and students from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Sichuan University shared their experience in helping the earthquake victims in various ways to rebuild their lives in Sichuan and Yunnan. In the process, I learnt that an abundance of dedicated members of the Hong Kong community had made selfless contributions by offering their expertise to improve the living conditions of the victims, without looking for rewards. On this occasion, I had invited two scholars from HKU and CUHK to share their feelings and experience in taking part in the reconstruction project.
Offering professional support on reconstruction and quality education
According to the Convener of the HKU Sichuan Reconstruction Project and Assistant Dean of Engineering Dr FOK Wai-tung, Wilton, in the first year after the Sichuan earthquake, they organised a delegation of more than 50 members of teaching staff and students to help in the reconstruction of the Yuenjia Keyu School in Deyang City by building a multimedia classroom, and installing a solar-powered electricity system, a wireless network, etc. for the students. The process showed the solidarity of all involved. With the slogan “Dedication of professionalism; connecting Sichuan and Hong Kong”, it was hoped that Hong Kong students would dedicate their expertise to provide the students affected by the earthquake with quality learning facilities by making use of engineering and information technology. He said that the school has now become a well-known school in the district and he was grateful that the students have done pretty good work in all aspects.
Looking back at the 10-year reconstruction works, Dr Wilton FOK said that they all thought it was a one-off project at the beginning. Later, with the support of the Mainland education department and others, arrangements had been made for allowing more Hong Kong students to participate in other reconstruction projects in Sichuan. I believe that any collaboration, whether at government or university level, should be launched with a view to taking the project forward. Now that the historic mission of reconstruction has been completed, we should look forward and seek more collaboration opportunities between Sichuan and Hong Kong. During the visit to Sichuan, we also visited the Sichuan University-The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Institute for Disaster Management and Reconstruction, and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. I hope that teachers and students of both Sichuan and Hong Kong will strengthen cooperation in fields such as engineering and innovative technology.
A new version of anti-seismic earth houses improving villagers’ lives
I had also invited the Professor of the Department of Architecture of the CUHK, Dr NG Yan-yung, Edward, to talk about his earlier involvement in the reconstruction work in the earthquake stricken areas. In 2014, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Ludian county in Yunnan province. There were over 60 families living in the Guangming village close to the epicentre, and all of their houses, which were predominantly made of traditional rammed earth, were seriously damaged. With his experience volunteering in the reconstruction projects in Sichuan province years ago, Prof. Edward NG, leading his team, was determined to design an earthquake-resistant, low-cost, green and comfortable house prototype for Yunnan villagers.
Participation in the post-quake reconstruction often entails many challenges. According to Prof. Edward NG, they initially wanted to build the prototype by using the clay reclaimed from collapsed houses after the earthquake, but the villagers cast doubts over the mud house, which they thought was lagging behind time. However, after repeated testing, it was found that the new house they helped build was stronger and more durable than imagined and could provide great comfort being warmer in winter and cooler in summer. As a result, the villagers and local government gradually accepted the new house. Subsequently, the CUHK team spent a decade developing a better version that was earthquake-proof. The current earth houses are an improved version that can meet the State’s requirement of the ability to withstand an earthquake up to Intensity VIII.
The project won international architectural awards
Sharing what he had taken away from helping in the project, Prof. Edward NG said that it was indeed touching that the project team could come up with a reconstruction proposal with safe, comfortable, functional, economic, as well as sustainable features. The project has recently won the Architectural Review House Awards 2017, beating over 250 entries from all around the world. It has also been named the World Building of the Year 2017 at the World Architecture Festival, an event referred to as the “Oscars of architecture”. I know that the project team has already set up a training centre in Kunming. A set of technical guidelines will be written to teach villagers to build such houses, with an aim to promote the method to other places.
Sharing experience in landslip prevention
Meanwhile, the Director of Civil Engineering and Development, Mr LAM Sai-hung, and the Head of the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO), Mr PUN Wai-keung, led a delegation to Sichuan. They visited the State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection in Chengdu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Sichuan Provincial Land and Resources Department, and attended the Geo-disasters Prevention Exchange Seminar and the 5th International Symposium on Mega Earthquake Induced Geo-disasters and Long Term Effects in 2018. The GEO had also organised the Sichuan-Hong Kong Technical Exchange on Geo-disasters Prevention cum Exhibition with the Sichuan Provincial Land and Resources Department. The exhibition shared the achievements of Hong Kong in managing slope safety through showcasing the development and operation of the Hong Kong Slope Safety System as well as the future direction of improving the system.
This Sichuan visit has special significance. It is not only a review and a wrap-up, but also a blessing and an outlook. The post-quake reconstruction support work was indeed so difficult and challenging that it required the concerted efforts of all parties to overcome impediments and help the victims rebuild their lives. I hope Sichuan and Hong Kong will maintain close co-operation and friendly relationship to open a new chapter on bilateral prosperity and development.
20 May, 2018Back