SEARCHING FOR LIFE: A crew from the Chinese international rescue team works to free victims from the rubble of the headquarters of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in Port-au-Prince on January 16 (CFP)
How long does it take to ready assistance and travel some 15,000 km around the globe to provide a helping hand amid one of the worst earthquakes in modern history?
The answer might surprise you.
Less than 36 hours after seismic shocks leveled much of Haiti on January 12, Chinese rescuers could be seen racing against the clock to extract victims from the collapsed headquarters of the UN mission in Port-au-Prince.
They arrived at the capital of the impoverished Caribbean nation from Beijing after a mere 17-hour flight.
"We started by evaluating the damage at the site immediately," said Huang Jianfa, head of the Chinese rescue team, "so we could save as many survivors as possible."
When the earthquake struck, Hédi Annabi, chief of the UN mission in Haiti, was meeting with eight Chinese police officers in a fourth floor office at the 10-story UN compound. Huang and his teammates later pulled their bodies from the rubble.
The Chinese, whose wounds are still healing from the Wenchuan earthquake two years ago, have demonstrated a deep sympathy for Haiti's earthquake victims. With a humanitarian spirit, they launched a massive relief campaign.
Aid without borders
TIMELY TREATMENT: A Chinese medical worker provides first aid to the local people near Haiti's presidential palace in Port-au-Prince on January 18 (YUAN MAN)
Within the first seven days, the Chinese rescuers unearthed 15 bodies—eight Chinese and seven foreign, Huang told Xinhua News Agency.
"The Chinese rescue team helps victims of all nationalities," he said. "Our principle is to mobilize as quickly as possible to provide assistance to areas badly in need of help."
In fact, Chinese rescuers are working in concert with rescue personnel from countries around the world, such as the United States, France, Israel and Brazil. Since the government in long-suffering Haiti has traditionally functioned poorly—and rendered all but paralyzed since the quake—the international coordination of rescue teams is of the essence, Huang said.
The Chinese team first dispatched to Haiti consists of 68 members—including rescue and medical workers and earthquake experts. They brought with them some 20 tons of earthquake relief equipment. On January 21, China announced to send a 40-member medical care and epidemic prevention team to Haiti.
Chinese rescuers have fought to rescue victims of all nationalities in Haiti, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters in response to allegations they only focused on the needs of Chinese nationals. Indeed, workers had not only freed a number of corpses from the rubble, but had also treated more than 200 injured victims. The number of people treated by Chinese medical workers increased with each passing day, he said. Local residents, he added, warmly welcomed their efforts.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Some 70 percent of the country's population lives in dire poverty, and half of its 8.5 million people are unemployed, according to UN statistics. The Food and Agriculture Organization has designated Haiti as one of the world's most economically vulnerable countries.
Worst of all is the fact that the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the most populated areas of the country. It was initially believed to have claimed up to 50,000 lives, according to World Health Organization estimates—although current estimates are closer to 200,000.
In addition to deploying its rescue teams, Beijing has pledged $3.6 million in emergency aid, as well as 30 million yuan ($4.4 million) in disaster relief materials to Haiti, as of January 22.
The first round of relief supplies from China arrived at Port-au-Prince on January 17. The 90 tons of goods, worth more than 13 million yuan ($1.9 million), include medicine, tents, emergency lights, water purification devices, food, drinking water and clothes.
China confronted unprecedented difficulties in conducting earthquake relief in Haiti, said Meng Xiangqing, a professor with the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army. For instance, China is halfway around the world, making it extremely inconvenient to transport necessary goods and equipment there on such short notice.
In recent years, China has offered emergency assistance to a number of countries. For example, the Chinese Government donated 687.63 million yuan ($101 million) to Southeast Asian nations affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. China has also previously provided significant assistance to Haiti, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, when it suffered domestic turmoil in 2004—and after it was battered by Hurricane Ike four years later.
By assisting earthquake victims in Haiti, the Chinese have once more brought into full play the humanitarian tradition that they displayed by addressing the aftermath of the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan earthquake that hit southwest China in May 2008, Li Tianyang, an online commentator, wrote in an article posted at the website of People's Daily.
The outpouring of donations for Haiti is evidence of the "love shown by ordinary Chinese for the Haitian people," Li said.
The Red Cross Society of China, meanwhile, announced it had received more than 5 million yuan ($735,000) in donations from Chinese individuals and companies as of January 20.