The purpose of survey and research

Interview with Ludian Earthquake Relief Team member Li Juan

Q: Requirement survey is the basis and foundation of any project plan. What is the difference between the requirement surveys of a disaster area and a normal charity project?

Li Juan is talking to a local kid

Li Juan: Requirement surveys carried out at a disaster area is definitely very different from those carried out for a normal charity project.  First and foremost the surveys are carried out with great speed. In considering the exigency of the disaster, the affected areas and the loss and damage to life and property, we insist in being meticulous and accurate in our information collection, while making sure the process was carried out with urgency. We were mindful to ensure the breadth and depth of the survey and to increase the frequency of visits, because the needs of the affected areas continue to shift with the developing conditions of the disaster. We were only able to provide adequate relief if we can access update information. Secondly, we needed to extend survey area coverage. Disaster relief waits for no one, all the affected were helpless having lost their homes, their normal life was turned upside down. We needed to carry out survey very quickly so that we can bring benefit to as widespread an area as possible. Thirdly, we needed to regulate survey studies. Having experienced many disaster relief programmes, securing basic needs for the affected population is the most important task at hand, and that means they are fed and clothed properly. Therefore, we would study the local custom and habits, such as what foods they are most used to, so that we can make sure our provisions are suitable. Developmental requirements are not a priority at this stage. By the time we reach rebuilding stage, we would readjust our project plan and reconsider the above three points. Integrated developmental experience would become part of the project plan, so that we may provide sustainable activities to respond to the affected area’s characteristics, and to improve the quality and quantity of service provision.

Q: The Amity Relief Team has overcome many difficulties to grasp the needs of the people in affected areas, what left the most lasting impression to you during this period?

Li Juan: at around 9am on August 4th, we were the first social relief team which entered Huodehong Town Wangjiapo Team with local firefighters, armed police and medical teams. I was shocked by the devastation I witnessed, almost all the houses had collapsed. The emergency aid teams changed their relief plan right away, instead of entering into each household, they came directly to the high school in the town and made it a muster point, from which they can co-ordinate surveys and studies. I feel that the timely change of survey policy made it possible for us to hand over rice and oil and other emergency provisions into the hands of the villagers by 22pm.

Q: How was the present Ludian Earthquake Relief Survey started?

Li Juan and colleagues are researching

the needs of affected people

Li Juan: Every time we approach the survey study for a natural disaster, we would draw up an in-depth and comprehensive plan, because thorough and detailed study would form the basis of follow-up activities. During the Ludian relief programme, the Amity Relief Team arrived at the relief command centre and the press centre by the following morning of the disaster, and immediately set out to collect information about the overall situation. At the same time, we actively liaised with local partners in Yunnan, and with the help and co-ordination of the city and province political bureau, we were finally able to reach the hardest-hit regions before other social relief organisations. We also mobilised non-governmental resources, organising young labourers from Guangming Village to join the newly-formed Amity Voluntary Task Force to assist with investigating pressing requirements. This effort not only greatly shortened study time and improved efficiency, it also meant study results were very close to the ground.

Q: What are some of the difficulties encountered during this requirement survey?

Li Juan: There were definitely difficulties. First of all, there was a language issue. Village leaders are mostly over 50, and although we could make out their narrative, they could not understand our mandarin quite as easily. This meant our communication was a bit problematic. However, the situation was quickly resolved when we recruited local young people to join our Amity Voluntary Task Force. Another complications arose out of the inaccessibility of the terrain. For example, when our survey study first started, we needed to go to Wangjhiapo for an initial requirement survey, but the Wangjiapo team was situated in a valley, if we took the main road it would have taken 5 to 6 hours, but there is a shortcut, and that would only take 3 hours. In order to get to the area as soon as possible so that timely reactions can come of this initial visit, the Relief Team choose the dangerous short cut which was mostly between 70 and 90 degree slopes. We were able to find wisdom and courage to solve all our problems, and we are proud of these achievement.

Q:  How can short and long-term requirements of a disaster relief programme be integrated?

Based on surveys, help can be provided in a

more sustainable way

Li Juan: Disaster relief requires rationality and patience, one cannot assign a completion date for such projects. These programmes some times take rather long periods. What we are at present engaged in is a short-term life saving work, so all our research studies gravitate from this focus. We were able to build up a co-operation relationship with the villagers by keeping close control over the quality and quantity of relief material.  Mutual trust grew as understanding deepened, relief workers became like friends to the villagers. Blossoming friendships greatly helped further aid development and similar relief programmes in that area. Secondly, during the short-term requirement surveys, special attention was directed towards setting up a network of volunteers, instilling the spirit of charity and common good, leading them to helping themselves as well as helping each other, and hence consolidating a skeletal task force for any future development projects. We very much need to encourage locals to participate in the present projects, to motivate their subjective initiative. We believe that we can draw many useful suggestions from them. So I wish to say, maybe the short-term and long-term requirement surveys have little similarity in content, there is a definite linkage between the two. Short-term surveys offer a good foundation for long-term studies, basic information, experience and conditions were gathered and consolidated, while long-term surveys are most important for our programme so that we may bring further and more thorough service provision ideals to the masses.

Translation by Cinde Lee