By Jiang Hongqiao, Chen Wenya, Xie Jingyu
Published: 2008-05-29

News, Corporation pages 4, 37
Translated by Zuo Maohong
Original articles:
[Chinese 1] [Chinese 2]

By late in the evening on May 21, nearly three dozen containers had been amassed in Beijing's Dahongmen Station, destined to be rushed overnight to quake-stricken areas in Sichuan province.

They contained portable housing units which would serve as transitional homes for countless victims of the deadly May 12 earthquake.

The next day, in a fodder field in Anxian, Sichuan, a construction team from Beijing would break ground for the first such houses for victims in Beichuan county, where buildings were especially decimated by the quake.

One million transitional houses would be built within three months, among which 250,000 would be finished in six weeks.

Mobilizing the Nation
Four million houses that had collapsed in Sichuan during the quake.

To accommodate the homeless, the Chinese government had also made an urgent request for international aid, especially tents.

"For simple habitation, tents can certainly do. The problem is they are not so comfortable, and don't bring people a sense of home, which will negatively impact their morale and the rebuilding effort," said Liu Yanhui, director of the China National Engineering Research Center for Human Settlements.

According to Wang Juelin, deputy director of policy research at the Ministry of Housing and Urban-rural Development (MOHURD), reconstruction work by the Ministry would be carried out in three phases, namely, temporary housing, transitional housing and permanent housing.

"Victims may have to live in transitional houses for one or two years, so these houses have to be humanized and welcoming like a home," he said.

The land needed for one million transitional houses would amount to 20 million square meters if each plot was 20 squares meters. According to the assumed 400-yuan cost per square meter, a total of eight billion yuan would be needed. Construction workers and professionals would be in tight demand.

At a MOHURD meeting on May 18, it decided to split the work among provinces and municipalities directly under the central government. Smaller ones were required to assume the task of constructing 30 to 40 thousand houses, while larger or economically stronger ones would assume 50 to 60 thousand. Beijing and Jiangsu were said to have pledged to take on 80 thousand immediately after the decision was announced.

In the early morning the next day, Beijing's deputy mayor Chen Gang held an emergency meeting to plan the construction of these 80 thousand houses. Eight top-ranking construction companies, including Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) and Beijing Municipal Road and Bridge Holdings (BMRBH), were tapped to take part in the work. 

BMCC had signed contracts with 11 transitional home producers and dispatched delegates to each of them. It promised to provide at least 20 thousand transitional houses for quake victims before June 25.

At a transitional housing producers meeting organized by the MOHURD on May 19, companies present were asked to leave the specifications of their products for research, and were required to guarantee their quality. Despite different materials and specifications, a uniform cost criterion of 400 yuan for each square meter was temporarily adopted.

As of press time, at least three provinces and municipalities including Chongqing, Beijing, and Hubei had started construction work in disaster areas.

According to a member of the investigation team from Beijing, the first construction site was originally chosen as Mianyang, but was shifted to Beichuan later as the local relief center suggested it was the worst hit. They visited seven places in downtown Beichuan within one day and finally found a fodder field free of debris and suitable for habitation.

Guidelines on transitional housing construction was handed out to the construction teams of each province. It was a highly technical document worked out by experts from the China Architecture Design and Research Group.

According to the guidelines, the transitional houses would be built in batches. With "relief and transition" as the guiding principles, the houses were required to be both safe and comfortable.

The transitional houses would be simple, one-story steel-reinforced units. Fifty such units would make up a community, each furnished with public bathrooms and kitchens. An elementary school and a food and oil supply would be set up per 1,000 units, and a secondary school for every 2,000.

Damaged Commercial Real Estate: Whose Responsibility?
In Chengdu where unlike rural areas the damage was limited, not all urban buildings remained unscathed.

"Urgent! Does anybody know the situation of Minjiang International opposite Chengdu Department Store on Xingfu Avenue? ...The building is still there according to photos after the quake, but I wonder if there's any damage?" a home owner working outside of Sichuan wrote such a post to inquire about his property in Chengdu.

"Chengdu is relatively far from the epicenter. No commercial building here has collapsed, but many have cracks on them," said Xun, a Chengdu resident.

His own property, which was bought as a wedding apartment, hadn't escaped damage either. "Most of the walls had been twisted. Plaster has fallen off. There are also cracks in some of the building's concrete girder. I'm not sure where it's broken or not," he said.

But his home wasn't the worst hit, Xun added. A friend of his had just moved into a new home and it was assessed as too dangerous for habitation after the quake, Xun told the EO.

Still drifting from place to place, Xun said he had yet to deal with the matter. However, some citizens had taken action. Said one local landlord: "I went to my building and checked…It was tragic. Cracks and fallen cement were everywhere…You could crumble the cement in your hands. What should we do to protect our rights? Compensation? Ask for refunds?"

According to one real estate developer who wished to remain anonymous, debt relationships and property ownership of commercial buildings were relatively complicated during the development phase.

"Some secured a home mortgage before the building under construction collapsed in the quake. In such a case, the purchaser, the developer and the bank all had rights and responsibilities to the home.

"In addition, during the construction, the building was entrusted to construction companies by the developer, so these two parties had certain rights and responsibilities too," he explained.

This aerial photo of Beichuan shows a swath of land flattened during the earthquake. Source: National Ministry of Disaster Reduction, Remote Sensing Department