School buildings were the most heavily affected structure during the great Wenchuan earthquake, and student and teacher populations suffered heavy losses of life. In the wake of the earthquake, the OECD, and PEB in particular, offered to help China improve earthquake safety in schools.
On 12 May 2008, an earthquake with a magnitude 8 on the Richter scale occurred in the densely populated Wenchuan area of the Sichuan Province in China, causing tens of thousands of deaths. The epicentral area of more than 440 000 km2 covered 417 counties, affecting over 45 million people. Most buildings in the area had a low level of earthquake resistance partly because building design codes for Wenchuan did not specify a sufficient level, particularly in rural parts. In addition, traditional buildings near the epicentre were constructed of stone masonry walls or rammed earth, which provide little seismic resistance.
As the country grieved over the loss of so many lives, the OECD Secretary General, Angel Gurría, sent a message of condolence to China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, offering the Organisation’s assistance in formulating a medium-term policy response, particularly concerning earthquake safety in schools.
On 9 July 2008, the Chinese Development Research Foundation, a government thinktank, invited the PEB Secretariat to present the Programme’s work on school earthquake safety. PEB organised a teleconference with high-level officials from the ministries of Construction, Education and Supervision, as well as from the Department of Development Planning. Richard Yelland, Head of PEB, was joined in Paris by experts Robin Spence and Brian Tucker. Mr. Yelland shared elements from the Programme’s publication Keeping Schools Safe in Earthquakes, translated into Chinese for this event, and discussed the OECD Recommendation Concerning Guidelines on Earthquake Safety in Schools. Professor Spence, Director of the Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment and a contributor to the publication and Recommendation, presented his research on assessing and upgrading existing school buildings using examples of experiences in Greece, Italy and Romania; a preliminary estimate of strengthening costs, based on six European Union countries; and some common issues between China and Europe. Dr. Tucker, President of GeoHazards International, reviewed the school seismic safety programmes in California and Turkey, providing examples of innovative governance and monitoring solutions in these countries, such as the use of video cameras on remote construction sites. He also suggested possible next steps for China to develop a national school earthquake safety programme.
PEB is currently organising a follow-up to the teleconference.
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