Nepal earthquake: Chinese companies lend a helping hand


chinese-rescuers_3322301bWang Feng could still feel the adrenaline rush as he recounted his involvement in keeping Kathmandu’s telecommunications lines open after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake on April 25.

 

 

That day, Mr Wang, technology director for Chinese network solutions company ZTE in Nepal, was among the first people to arrive at the systems control building at Ncell, one of Nepal’s biggest telecommunications operators, to offer help.

 

 

Constant aftershocks had caused serious damage to communications, knocking out nearly 50 per cent of base stations in the capital, Kathmandu.

 

 

In the following three days, 65 ZTE engineers, nearly half of its employees in Nepal, worked at various signal stations. The company also arranged for workers to monitor the system 24 hours a day.

 

 

In the aftermath of the earthquake, which claimed more than 8,000 lives, many Chinese companies have extended a helping hand. China is the largest foreign investor in the Himalayan nation, and almost 100 Chinese companies have been registered there.

 

 

“We know how important the telecommunications system is to the country, particularly for work in rescuing people after an earthquake,” Mr Wang said. “Recovering the system means saving more lives.”

 

While the 34-year-old engineer was repairing the core network on the second floor, there was another strong aftershock. All the shelves and machines in the small operations room shook. “My hands and legs were shaking… but I knew that I had to finish the repairs first,” he said.

 

 

Xu Lei, chief executive of ZTE Nepal, said: “We were racing against time to save lives. Even though constant aftershocks at one time affected nearly 70 per cent of all base stations, the company still managed to have 75 per cent of the system working in three days.”

 

In the days that followed, Mr Xu received an email from Lars Klasson, vice president of TeliaSonera, Ncell’s parent company. “Thanks for all the efforts from your company,” he had written. “We appreciate all the support to Ncell and the country.”

 

 

Chen Tiegang, director of the Nepal branch of Shanghai Construction Group, had never expected the company’s plant and machinery would be used to save lives. After the earthquake in Kathmandu, which destroyed historical heritage sites and caused buildings to collapse, police led residents to the company’s premises to ask for help.

 

 

“People were crying,” Mr Chen said. “They said their houses had collapsed and family members were buried beneath the rubble. A police officer said they needed our machines to save people.”

 

 

As the earthquake struck on a Saturday, many of the Chinese engineers were away for the weekend. The three engineers on site immediately joined the rescue efforts, using a crane, forklift truck and excavator. Amid the aftershocks, the engineers worked until midnight that day. “Thanks to our equipment, we rescued four people from collapsed buildings,” he said.

 

 

The disaster left many of Shanghai Construction Group’s 81 Nepali employees homeless, and some lost their families. The company’s depot became a de facto relief shelter. “I told them that as long as the Chinese staff members had food, no Nepali would go hungry at my base,” Mr Chen said.

 

 

The company also took care of 100 students from a primary school northwest of Kathmandu. “We’ve been supporting the school, which has many orphans, since we started working in Nepal,” he said. “After the earthquake, we lost contact because of the destruction of the telecommunications networks. We were very worried about the children.”

 

When the network was repaired four days later, the company called the school. “They were safe but asked for food and tents,” Mr Chen said. “It was hard to get food right after a disaster. Many shops were closed. Luckily, we had a long-term food supplier in Kathmandu, and we bought up almost everything in the shop.”

 

 

Within 48 hours, 650lb of rice and 550lb of flour, as well as cooking oil and tents, were delivered by the Chinese construction company to the school.

 

 

Shanghai Construction Group had been working on an assistance project to upgrade Kathmandu’s ring road since 2013, costing 300 million yuan (£31.2 million).

 

According to Mr Chen, the earthquake did not cause much damage to the road, for which 50 per cent of the basic construction had been completed.

 

 

The Chinese team said it planned to spend a month repairing the damaged sections of the six-mile road and is confident of completing it on schedule. The handover to the Nepali government was due to take place in August next year.

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