China is willing to continue working with foreign countries in disaster prevention and relief in future, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
"We greatly appreciate some countries for their requests to send professional rescue teams after the major earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province," spokesman Qin Gang told a press conference.
The Chinese authorities have acted "fast and efficiently" since receiving applications from foreign rescue teams, he said. Qin was replying to a question on whether there was delay during the procedure of approval as several foreign teams arrived in the quake zone 72 hours after the disaster, missing the "golden" chance for saving survivors.
He linked the delay of rescuers' arrival to damaged transport facilities and aftershocks.
The May 12 earthquake seriously damaged local infrastructure, especially roads and telecommunications facilities, he said. "This added up the difficulties for rescue work in the early stage. Not mentioning foreign rescuers, even domestic ones could not reach the sites at the earliest time."
Many roads were blocked and inaccessible to vehicles. "It would take more than 10 hours to cover a distance that took two or three hours before the quake. And there were frequent aftershocks."
Members of a rescue team from Singapore search for survivors in the quake-hit Hongbai Town of Shifang City in southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 17, 2008. The team of 55 members from Singapore started their rescue mission in the serious devastated Hongbai Town on Saturday.(Xinhua/Jiang Fan)
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, four rescue teams from Japan, Russia, Republic of Korea (ROK) and Singapore participated in the quake rescue task.
Nine medical teams with 223 members from countries including Britain, Japan, Russia, Italy, France, Cuba, Indonesia, Pakistan and Germany were working in quake-hit Sichuan and Gansu provinces. They had treated more than 6,400 patients.
According to the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will send four emergency response units to China's quake areas.
The Red Cross Societies in Austria, Spain, Britain and Denmark will be in charge of forming the units.
Austrian and Spanish units would bring water-purification facilities, the British unit would offer medical services and help build public toilets while the Danes would help set up working and residence camps for relief workers.
Two had arrived and the rest were on the way, the RCSC source said.
The IFRC was also collecting 100,000 tents across the world for China quake survivors, about 16,900 of which had reached Sichuan, the source said.
Meanwhile, Wang Zhenyao, director of disaster relief with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, denied at the same press conference that the RCSC was the only organization to handle foreign donated relief materials.
Other public offering foundations, such as the China Charity Federation and local government departments, were also qualified to receive foreign donations, he said, adding some foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO) were implementing their own relief projects in the quake areas.
"I have seen many volunteers and international groups (doing relief work in quake areas). For example, a Canadian organization was working in a temporary shelter camp in Mianzhu. They went there alone instead of working with the RCSC."
Many channels, not only the RCSC, were available for domestic and foreign donors, said Wang, but he did not elaborate what the channels were.
Quite a number of Chinese NGOs, enterprises, websites and volunteer groups had organized their own relief programs.
Several NGOs in Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital, had founded a joint-relief program and more than 120 NGOs nationwide had joined its network.
(Xinhua News Agency June 4, 2008)