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November 2nd, 2016
Infrastructure • Energy

China's Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project

In May 2008, an earthquake centred on Wenchuan County in Sichuan province hit Sichuan and the neighbouring province of Gansu. The Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project for China followed, bolstered by funding support from the World Bank and relief aid coming from around the world and from all over the People's Republic of China. The project succeeded in its reconstruction goals, rebuilding vital infrastructure and healthcare and education services.

The initiative

The rebuilding process after the earthquake required significant investment, and the World Bank supported the PRC by helping to finance the Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project for China. "In February 2009, the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors sanctioned an emergency recovery project to assist the PRC in the recovery and reconstruction process. A loan of USD710 million to provide finance for the rebuilding of infrastructure and health and education projects in Sichuan and Gansu provinces was sanctioned."[2]

The objectives of the project were to restore essential infrastructure and healthcare and education services to at least the levels that obtained before the earthquake "and where appropriate, to provide for expansion of services, while reducing the vulnerability to seismic and flood hazards, and building capacity of local governments to manage the recovery programme".[3]

At national level, the Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission were responsible for the coordination, while the Sichuan Provincial Government and the Gansu Provincial Government were the implementing agencies. The PRC government put together the National Masterplan for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Wenchuan Earthquake (the Masterplan).

The challenge

Wenchuan County is located in Sichuan Province in the southwest of the People's Republic of China (PRC). "On May 12, 2008, an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck southwestern China, centred in Wenchuan County. More than 69,000 people were killed, 374,000 were injured and 18,000 went missing. 34,000 kilometres of highways were destroyed, more than 1,200 reservoirs were damaged, 7444 schools, 11,028 hospitals and many clinics were damaged. Additionally, 5.5 million homes in rural areas and 860,000 in urban areas were severly damaged or destroyed. The estimated loss was RMB855 billion (USD123 billion)."[1]

The public impact

The Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project for China was able to deliver all the strands of its reconstruction work - infrastructure, healthcare, education and defence against future earthquakes - to satisfactory levels. "In Sichuan Province, restoration of essential infrastructure is largely satisfactory with 100% of water supply services completed and 95% of the roads have been completed, with only one road extending beyond loan closing. The health facilities have been 100% restored and are fully operational. The project-financed health and water facilities are operating at levels higher than before the earthquake. The vulnerability to flood and seismic hazard of all project-financed infrastructure has been reduced through much improved seismic engineering standards and relocating facilities to less vulnerable sites."[4]

The 2013 Lushan earthquake demonstrated that the defensive and other work had been carried out effectively. "[It] affected project areas, but the infrastructure and facilities financed by the project withstood the earthquake and little damage was reported compared to other infrastructure in the region. The health and infrastructure agencies at the county level benefited from training to reduce vulnerability to natural hazards and improve operation and maintenance practices."[5]

Stakeholder engagement

The PRC government, the Chinese banks that provided financial loans towards rebuilding, the provincial governments who were the coordinators, the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission were the main internal stakeholders; members of the the international community, such as the World Bank and man foreign nations, were the primary external stakeholders of the recovery project. There was strong involvement from the internal as well as external stakeholders, as the government not only initiated immediate efforts but also planned province-wide reconstruction. Different groups, like the Provincial Programme Leading Group, formed part of the implementation plan. Moreover, the government also requested the international community to provide support, and the World Bank sanctioned a loan to finance the project.

A phased plan was put in place: the first part involved the recovery of Sichuan, followed by a second part which involved the recovery of Gansu province. The PRC government took a strong leadership role, conducted damage and needs assessment and carried out the initial reconstruction planning. There was support from all parts of the society, and many citizens contributed to the relief effort. "The food handout in Jiangyou, a small city 115km (70 miles) east of the epicentre, was being carried out by volunteers from an ad hoc group of private catering companies from another province."[6]

Many countries also offered help, some in terms of financial assistance and others in terms of humanitarian aid. "Immediately after the massive earthquake, the government initiated relief efforts and mobilised 100,000 personnel to aid in the rescue efforts. However, within two days, the Government of China made a formal request to the international community asking for support in the relief efforts."[7] There was aid from countries such as Germany, the UK and Saudi Arabia: "Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz has decided to donate 50 million US dollars in cash and 10 million dollars worth of relief materials".[8]

The stakeholders in the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu were also engaged. "At the provincial level, each province has established a Provincial Programme Leading Group (PPLG), chaired by a vice-governor and including directors of relevant agencies.  The PPLGs will set project policy and guide implementation."[9]

Political commitment

There was strong political will directed towards relief and reconstruction activities after the earthquake. The relief effort was initiated immediately after the earthquake, and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, flew to Sichuan within hours and was involved in its direction. "The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, appears to have earned considerable kudos by rushing to the scene and staying there for five days to direct relief operations, at one point in tears."[10] He told state-run media that China faced “a major disaster” and called for “calm” and “courage”.

President Hu Jintao has called for an “all-out” effort to rescue survivors and to provide for the injured.

"More than 100,000 troops and police have been deployed to help survivors and to rescue people trapped by rubble and landslides. Hopes of finding more are fast dwindling."[11]

Public confidence

The prime minister's visit to Sichuan drew praise from the public. "'He really loves the common people and we can see this is not an act,'" said Wang Liangen, 72, a retired maths teacher from the devastated city of Dujiangyan, who watched last week as the prime minister climbed over the wreckage of a school where hundreds of children were buried. 'He has brought the people closer together and brought the people closer to the government.'"[12]

This increase in public confidence was thought to be likely to persist. "'Wen's efforts will absolutely leave a long-lasting influence on government work in the future,' said Fang Ning, a political scientist at the China Academy of Social Science in Beijing. 'His quick response and immediate appearance will set a precedent for other officials.'"[13]

Clarity of objectives

The objectives of the Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project for China were clearly defined by the PRC government, and its Masterplan indicated that there was a well-thought-out strategy. Moreover, the outcome objectives address the relevant issues of:

  • Reconstructing the essential infrastructure.

  • Restoring healthcare and education services.

  • Reducing the vulnerability of the region to seismic and flood hazards.

  • Building the capacity of local government to manage the recovery programme.

Strength of evidence

The PRC government worked on the Masterplan, which addressed needs assessment, initial reconstruction planning, and other activities. People were then consulted and the plan was finally signed off by the State Council. "The Masterplan was approved by the State Council on August 27, 2008, following public consultation."[14]

Moreover, the World Bank, which has decades of global experience in providing post-disaster reconstruction, management and prevention, assisted the government by providing additional support and sector-specific best practice. "The Bank has also provided considerable support to the government on the knowledge side, including a June 12, 2008 an international workshop, Earthquake Recovery and Reconstruction: International Experience and Best Practice, co-organised with the Ministry of Finance. Immediately following the workshop, the Bank provided 17 sector-specific good practice notes to support reconstruction planning that informed the development of the Masterplan."[15]


The financial feasibility was partly addressed by the funding of USD710 million from the World Bank, along with foreign aid from around the world. The PRC government also encouraged firms to donate. "The government has been encouraging firms to give more generously to worthy causes. From this year it has increased tax incentives for corporate donations to charities."[16]

The prime minister mobilised the available human resources in the relief efforts, including 100,000 troops and police (see Political Commitment above) and local citizens.


The Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission coordinated the relief effort at the national level. "At the provincial level, each province has established a Provincial Programme Leading Group (PPLG), chaired by a Vice-Governor and including Directors of relevant agencies.  The PPLGs will set project policy and guide implementation.  In Sichuan, the provincial government has established a coordination office to act as a secretariat for the PPLG.  In Gansu, the Provincial Finance Bureau will assume this role... Sichuan will utilise two existing PPMOs, each headed by a director, one reporting to the Provincial Construction Commission and the other reporting to the Provincial Health Bureau. County level PLGs and Project Implementation Units (PIUs) are being established in the project counties, in a similar manner to the provincial level."[17]


The impact of the project has been monitored consistently and the results have been published on the World Bank website. Moreover, the indicators capture the exact amount of work completed in both provinces, Sichuan and Gansu, and clearly provide information on the status of the project. The main parameters include: the proportion of water supply services completed (100%); the proportion of road reconstruction that has been completed (95%); and the proportion of health facilities that have been restored (100%).


There was good alignment between the various stakeholders of the project. In terms of financial support, it was provided by the World Bank, which released the required funding resources. Consulting services were also made available by the World Bank for external monitoring. The planning for the Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project for China was done at national government level and set out in the Masterplan, while implementation was done at province level through the PPLGs and PPMOs. Coordination responsibility was with the Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission.

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