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Expert calls for rational volunteering, donations

Updated: 2013-04-23 01:41
By ZHAO LEI in Lushan, Sichuan, and YANG YAO in Beijing ( China Daily)

Volunteers without specific training are encouraged not to jump into disaster centers and should save their efforts for post-disaster recovery, an expert said.

They were also urged to protect themselves and learn self-help tips, after a volunteer was killed by a fallen rock on a road linking Gaohe town and Longmen county on Monday.

Expert calls for rational volunteering, donationsTian Feng, a disaster relief specialist with Conservation International, said: "What most of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers without specific training and no affiliation can actually cause more problems than they alleviate in a disaster situation."

According to the local government, untrained and unprepared volunteers flocked to earthquake-stricken Longmen village in Lushan county, causing unnecessary jams and consuming disaster relief materials.

By Sunday, more than 700 volunteers had gathered in the town, more than 40 percent of them university students with no training in disaster relief.

The magnitude-7 earthquake in Sichuan drew a lot of public compassion. People from all walks of life tried to show their support by volunteering and donating.

The Chongqing Communist Youth League said landslides, aftershocks and collapsed houses made it hard to drive on the road, in addition to the heavy machinery that is being transported.

"But there are still volunteers trying to enter the area, causing further jams," an official said. "We would be caught in the jam for one or two hours."

Han Hong, a pop singer, organized a fund-raising activity at a gymnasium in Beijing and claimed that she would visit the disaster center. Han had ear surgery on April 9, and her doctor suggested that she avoid air travel.

Han Han, a best-selling writer, said that while Han Hong’s spirit was commendable, her appearance as a celebrity in a disaster area would cause chaos.

Conservation International’s Tian said this would only make the situation worse.

He said the "golden rescue hour", or the 72-hour period after the disaster, is precious and should be used with care.

"Professional rescue teams or NGOs are needed here and now," said Tian.

"As for individual volunteers with great enthusiasm, it is better for them to give helping hands after the emergency during the victim resettlement period and post-disaster reconstruction."

As disaster relief materials are now scarce, unprepared volunteers may take up resources instead of helping, said a local official.

The General Office of the State Council issued a notice on Monday saying that social organizations are not allowed to enter the area without official permission.

The notice also advised unprepared individual volunteers not to go so as to ease the transportation burden.

As for people who want to donate, what and to whom they should donate remains a problem.

"I want to offer help by sending whatever they need, but now I don’t know where I can get trusted information," said Guo Lin, a Beijing resident.

"Scattered information is now flowing everywhere, it’s hard for me to discern what is the real need."

Various donation information posts have appeared on micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, with contact information and bank accounts.

But some Weibo users said they were fake and that people were just taking the chance to make money. For people like Guo who want to help, this is quite confusing.

"I wish there was an integrated information platform that I can trust telling me the exact items they need," she said.

Tian, the disaster relief expert, said what is lacking now is efficiency, which comes from positive interactions between societal self-organization and government.

"Opacity of information, especially in the area of donations following the 2008 earthquake, left a lot of public distrust. This will take time to fix," he said.

Tian also said donating needs to be carried out in a rational way.

"In the first three days, disaster relief materials, like drinking water, food, medicine and tents are the top needs," he said. "But that does not mean everyone should donate these materials."

He said some of the items might be urgent at first, but this might change after help from the civil affairs department.

Time needed for transportation should also be factored in. For instance, dairy company New Hope Group sent dairy products that may expire before they arrive in the disaster areas.

"Water pipes, filters and waterproof cloth would be of need in the subsequent resettlement," Tian said. "It is time to think about donating these materials."

Cao Yin in Beijing contributed to this story.

Related readings:

President Xi confident in recovery from quake 

Premier on site of earthquake devastation 

Premier: Rescue every person 

Commentary: Quake-hit China grows in pain 

China's Air Force starts first airdrop in quake zones 

Snapshots of rescue efforts in quake-hit region 

Nation works to restore post-quake order 

Experts assess quake damage to schools


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