Permanent homes are still just Saturday, February 28 2009
For more than 10 months, Guo Yongkang, his wife and daughter have been living in a shelter made from branches, plastic sheets and bamboo, and measuring barely 300 sq ft.
Mr Guo's family, along with hundreds of other residents in Hongyan village, Jiulong county in Sichuan province, lost their home in last May's magnitude 8 earthquake.
After they were moved to safety, Mr Guo built a shelter from whatever he could find - a piece of cloth separates he and his wife's bed from their 18-year-old daughter's.
For the sake of hygiene, toilets are not allowed inside the shelters; all the villagers must share a single washroom set up by the government.
"What we are concerned about the most now is when to start rebuilding a permanent home," the 45-yearold farmer said. "I am working hard and saving every cent for it."
A 645 sq ft house is estimated to cost about 40,000 yuan (HK$45,350). The government is giving 20,000 yuan to each family, but most villagers - who lost almost everything in the disaster - would find it practically impossible to come up with the difference.
To help the 241 families of Hongyan village move into new homes sooner, the South China Morning Post has initiated the Homes for Hope project to buy construction materials for quake-proof houses.
Liu Zhonghua, the deputy head of Jiulong county, said the need to give quake victims permanent houses was more urgent than ever given Sichuan's cold temperatures.
Throughout winter, the county government has provided electric blankets, duvets, vacuum flasks and coats. The villagers weaved driedgrass mats to cover the walls of their shelters to protect against the wind.
"No one in the village has suffered from exposure in the past few months," Ms Liu said. "However, we are very worried about the coming summer, which could be an even bigger challenge for us."
The humid weather and relatively high temperatures in summer might lead to heat stroke, diarrhoea and quicken the spread of infectious diseases in densely populated areas.
Ms Liu said it was common for two - or even three - generations to share a shelter as small as 200 sq ft.
The Homes for Hope project has so far raised more than HK$3 million through the annual charity appeal Operation Santa Claus, which is jointly run by RTHK and the Post. Through various means, it will continue to raise funds throughout the year.