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Plenary Session of the European Parliament: Statement by State Secretary Janez Lenarčič on behalf of the EU Council: Natural Disaster in China

Dear Members of the European Parliament,

We are following with great apprehension the evolution of events in China, following the disastrous earthquake that devastated large parts of the country, especially the province of Sichuan. According to the latest estimation, 10 million people have been affected by the earthquake.

The death toll is rising by the hour while hopes to rescue survivors trapped under the rubble are diminishing. We are now at a likely death toll of 50,000 people: a real catastrophe. Maybe more lives could be saved if rescuers were able to reach the area. This is hampered by objective difficulties in reaching affected areas but also by lack of sufficient equipment.

An additional problem is the damage caused by the earthquake to a number of dams. Earthquake survivors in the Sichuan province face a serious threat of flooding because of that.

The Chinese government has in fact appealed for basic equipment to help in the rescue operation. The health ministry says there will also be an increasing demand for medicines and sophisticated medical equipment as survivors have to be urgently treated for injuries.

Still, a massive effort is already under way. More than 12 tonnes of relief goods have been airdropped; scores of helicopters are flying in rescuers and aid. Officials said quilts, tents, food and satellite phones are needed most.

As you know and as was mentioned before, the Council met in an extraordinary session last Tuesday and expressed its deepest condolences to the people of China for the massive loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake. We shared the grief of all those who have lost their loved ones and have expressed our heartfelt sympathies to those who have been injured themselves or suffered heavy material losses in this catastrophe.

The international community has been fast in offering aid to China and in letters sent by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade (MOFCOM) China officially welcomed foreign aid. A number of foreign teams (also from Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Australia) are already in the country or are about to go.

The European Union wishes to provide assistance to the affected population. The European Commission and the majority of Member States have already responded to their needs and are willing to offer assistance in the future as well.

Thank you very much.


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Date: 21.05.2008