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Credit woes hurt poor in quake region

POOR farmers devastated by the May 2008 earthquake in southwest China are facing financial problems in rebuilding their homes, a high-level state official said yesterday.

Zhang Ping, minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planning body, said some impoverished people can't get bank loans to rebuild their homes because of their dire economic situation and limited income.

Zhang's remarks came in a report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislature. The report gave an account of the reconstruction work that followed the magnitude-8 earthquake in Sichuan Province that left more than 87,000 people dead or missing.

Zhang called for more-effective measures to ensure the rebuilding of homes for poverty-stricken families and aid to address their financial problems and ease material and labor shortages.

Other problems noted in the report were slow progress in the reconstruction of urban homes, reduced financing capacity of rural financial institutions for small and medium-sized enterprises, and shortages of building materials and technical support for the quake-hit region.

Zhang also urged increased attention to the psychological problems of quake survivors. Despite counseling, government officials and residents still suffer emotional trauma over lost relatives and property, he said.

Two government officials in quake-battered Beichuan County committed suicide after the disaster. Feng Xiang, 33, and Dong Yufei, 40, hanged themselves after losing family members.

And in Mianyang City, a third official, He Zonghua, 40, jumped to his death from a hotel.

According to a survey by Sichuan University, more than 400,000 people in the quake zone are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 40,000 of those with PTSD are at risk of suicide, said Zhang Wei, deputy president of the West China Hospital under Sichuan University.

The Sichuan provincial government dispatched medical groups last year to 10 of the worst-hit counties to relieve officials' mental stress. The government also spent money to improve the working and living conditions of the officials.

But experts admitted China lacked mental health professionals and staff trained in handling PTSD.

Zhang said the government will send experienced professionals to offer counseling to residents and provide training for medical staff in the quake area for at least half a year.

At the NPC meeting, Zhang told legislators that China had invested more than 360 billion yuan (US$52.7 billion) in quake reconstruction projects as of the end of April.


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