The post-quake reconstruction involves not only the rebuilding of homes, schools and other infrastructure facilities, but also the restoration of the badly-damaged ecological environment.
The damage this quake has caused to local ecology is tremendous. Forest coverage in many mountainous areas has been considerably reduced because of landslides and mudslides, and some forest-covered mountains have been left only with rocks.
The mountains around the epicenter are exactly the habitat of the giant panda, an animal that is unique to China and considered a living fossil in terms of its long history of evolution.
In the past, the policy to restore reclaimed arable land from mountains to forests was adopted to keep the mountains green so that the improved ecology will help prevent water erosion in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.
This earthquake has destroyed all that had been achieved by the efforts of local villagers in covering the mountains with trees.
The significance of ecological balance for local people's lives can never be overestimated when it comes to economic development and social progress from a long-term point of view. What is more, the ecology in the quake-affected areas has a direct bearing on the entire ecological system of the Yangtze River.
From this perspective, it is of national importance to rebuild the damaged ecological balance there.
Frequent aftershocks make it difficult for forest experts to travel deep into the mountains to see exactly how serious the damage is to the biological environment.
But one thing that can be done is to mobilize local villagers on high alert against possible fire as many dead trees are becoming drier in the increasingly higher temperature and may easily catch fire.
It will be a tough battle for some 1,400 wild giant pandas to survive in the damaged mountain forests. It is estimated that there will not be enough bamboo shoots for them to eat, with vast stretches of bamboo forests badly damaged or even destroyed by the tremor. It will be a hard job to help them survive the hard times.
What is badly needed is a careful study of the overall damage that the local ecology has suffered. On the basis of it, experts may design a detailed plan as to how the shaken ecological balance can be best restored and the wild giant pandas effectively assisted to survive these most difficult times.
(China Daily June 13, 2008)