July 1991

 Here's how the Hong Kong media got the news of our visit:

On 22 July, the Governor of China's Anhui (pronounced Ahn Way) province broke a 40 year closed door policy and gave World Vision permission to operate a flood relief program.

Geoff Renner and I joined four colleagues from World Vision Hong Kong and one from Bangladesh for our visit to China, while Paul Nichols remained in Hong Kong to assist with project writing and communications.
We even found Mark Emerson and Richard Hunter holed up in a corner. They were wowing our Chinese colleagues with NIS (Australia's latest iteration of computer programs).
As Geoff reported to the news in Hong Kong, and by yesterday we were both repeating on television and radio, “The whole eastern China is one vast flood plain. It is hard to distinguish between lakes, rivers and the five million acres of rice fields under water.”
Anhui province experienced fifty days of rain at a time when it's normally dry.
Here are some of the statistics given to us for Anhui province, an area about twice the size of Tasmania with a population of 55 million people:
  •       44,000,000 people affected (that means house flooded, or crops lost);

  •       467,000 rooms destroyed (most homes are a single room dwelling);

  •       8,300,000 people trapped by floods;

  •       10,000,000 people relocated out of flood zones;

  •       41,740 villages trapped by floods;

  •       1,335 industries disrupted;

  •       302 kms of road foundation destroyed, and 733 kms of road damaged;

  •       6,708 train services cancelled;

  •       213 bridges wrecked;

  •       10,776 animals killed;

  •       340 people killed.

The loss to agriculture amounts to an incredible A$23,175,000,000!
There are statistics for everything. School buildings destroyed, administration offices, telephone wires, power lines, irrigation systems, furniture lost, stored grain water-logged, personal effects lost.
The bottom line is a flood, the likes of which China has not previously experienced. 18 of China's 33 provinces have been affected.
“Rivers are at their highest level on record,” one official said.
“How long have you been keeping records?” I asked.
“Over a thousand years,” he replied.
Everywhere we went it was clear the people were glad we had come, the first ngo to be invited and to respond.
We were welcomed in an official ceremony by the Governor of Anhui province. The Governor is no small time politician. He governs a population of 55 million people. Rather more than our Prime Minister.
The local media covered the reception and we were instant tv stars all over the province.
Later the Governor's representative told us, “You are welcome to be operational to enable you to be accountable to your donors and to be able to respond to the most urgent needs.” It was so encouraging to discover they had looked into World Vision and the way we work. They were prepared for us to set high standards of accountability, and they were open to provide them.
Notes from my Diary.
News about the floods got out because of Katherine Lo in the Hong Kong office. She saw the small story in the paper about China requesting international aid. She rang Beijing and asked permission to bring in a local media team. “Check around,” she told the official, “World Vision is a good agency.” Within two hours he called back to say “Yes.”
More than HK$200,000,000 raised by all agencies in first five days after first media visit. That's more than A$30 million. Likely to double!
Video shows people using doors for rafts, brooms and spades for paddles.
A seventy year old man says, “I've never seen flooding like this.”
As flood comes people have a good spirit. As the time passes, spirits weaken. Despair comes.
“They have a file on World Vision. They have a file on everyone. They are very good at filing.”
Everywhere we go we openly describe World Vision as a Christian humanitarian agency. The Director of Provincial Civil Affairs says, “We understand the spirit of World Vision ... our goal is the same even if our methods are different.”
All the numbers are as long as international telephone numbers.
Why isn't this a big international story? Because the media don't think it is news until cnn has covered it.
Western media, except for those with World Vision, have been denied permission to visit the area.
Flooding started on May 18. Now 8 weeks. Equal to half the normal full year total.
In earlier floods many more people died. This time the flood mitigation plans tempered the peaks.
Anhui province was sacrificed for the greater good.
In the middle of conference one of our team knocks over a glass of water. The Governor makes a joke about floods even here.
We present the Governor with a World Vision of Hong Kong clock. “Time is important,” says David Ngai.
Sights along the Road.
A father holds up a naked baby and kisses it warmly on the face and tummy.
A man sits behind a street market table. Doesn't seem to be selling anything, but has the biggest smile for his customers.
No sign of Mao-style clothing. Nylon shirts and blouses. White, pink, orange, red and many pastels.
Twenty geese squat precariously on the roof of a taxi-cycle. Defying logic and gravity.
Children carry a long bamboo stick with a white rag tied to the end. What's it for? Herding geese.
Toddlers have pants split up the middle. No nappies.
A mother sits in a doorway massaging the back of a toddler draped over her lap.
Kids play in dirt with cups and a bowl of water. Mud pies.
A mother stands her baby on a window sill. He rocks unsteadily a metre from the ground. Mum's hands are inches away.
Every doorway has people in chairs inside and outside. It's hot.
Lots of watermelons for sale. At lunch we discover you're supposed to spit the pips on the floor!
Earth colours. Houses of mud or red clay bricks. Roofs of straw or grey tiles.
Mother & Father about 25. Two babies under 2. Brought clothes, 2 beds, and some grain. Lost crops, house, furniture. House of mud. Nothing left. Now living in a brick store with hundreds of others. 3 beds side by side. Two unrelated families. A bit cooler inside. 38o and 90% humidity outside. 8,000 people here with pigs and kids mixed up. No sanitation. I saw 3 toilets.
100,000 families moved over a week in this one county. No lives lost in the move.
Thousands of fishing boats used to shift people not fish. I told the official he used to be a fisher of fish but had become a fisher of men. Wry smiles from the visiting Christians. The Biblical allusion goes right over the official's head. Pity.
Any single county in this province would rate as a major disaster elsewhere in the world.

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