Two years after the Sichuan earthquake: still working "black and white, five plus two" on disaster recovery

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Remembering May 12, 2008 - a boy in Weima Town looks at the Town’s rebuilding plans with the construction going on around.

Today is the second anniversary of the Sichuan - Wenchuan disaster, two years since the 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit six provinces in China, killing more than 68,000 people and affecting an area roughly equating to 60% of Texas, or 80% of France. It is these rough calculations that have stuck in my mind for the last two years, since the Bank started working with the government of China on an emergency recovery loan. The immensity of the task being undertaken in reconstructing the 4 million homes destroyed, restarting livelihoods and restoring hope for the 15 million people affected is very difficult to comprehend. 

The resilience of the people affected is incredible, as is the continued dedication and drive of those working in the reconstruction and recovery program in the affected area. The team in Sichuan on the government side coined a term during a Bank mission: “black and white, five plus two” when they talked of how they were still working day and night, weekdays and weekends. Every mission since we remember it and joke about it, but it has a sincere and valid reality behind it.

Living in Beijing, every now and then I get asked by someone I meet what I do. I reply that I work for the Sichuan earthquake area, helping with the reconstruction. If I am in conversation with a Chinese person, more often than not they say thank you; thank you for being here as a foreigner and helping China. I always ask if they are a ‘Sichuan ren’ (someone from Sichuan), but typically they aren’t. The thanks are given because as a nation the earthquake impacted so many, and the response to it, whether from Chinese nationals at home and abroad, or the international community, has left a lasting impression of solidarity and empathy. With the recent Qinghai earthquake foremost in the minds of many Chinese, on this second anniversary we remember all those affected on those terrible days, and give a special tribute to the men and women in the affected areas who continue to work “black and white, five plus two”.


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