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Relief NGOs face China's power grip

An earthquake survivor in Sichuan Province, China carries disaster relief supplies outside government-built temporary shelters.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: China has evacuated tens of thousands of people from the area hit by last month's earthquake. It's the rainy season, and the government's worried about landslides and floods. China's government still rules its communist iron hand.
But during this crisis, it has relaxed its grip somewhat and let non-governmental organizations do some of the work. Lisa Chow has this report from Chengdu.


Lisa Chow: Tian Jun stands in a small room that's become command center for more than 30 Chinese NGOs. She looks at her wall and rattles off that day's activities: distributing water purification systems, providing books for children,
and coordinating SUVs and radios for relief efforts.

Tian Jun is one of three people in charge of Chengdu 5-12, a coalition of NGOs that formed three days after the earthquake.

Tian Jun (voice of interpreter): The government deals with big projects, on a macro level. NGOs, we're smaller, but we're also powerful in the sense that we're specialized.

The impact of last month's earthquake is so widespread, and the needs are so great, the government has essentially "outsourced" certain responsibilities to NGOs.

Chen Tai Yong says the latitude granted to these groups is unprecedented. He's China director for the U.S.-based charity Heifer Project International.

Chen Tai Yong: This time, government has already recognized the power of NGOs.

But, he points out, it's still the government coordinating the work. And that's the hitch: the ruling Community Party still has ultimate power.

For example, to get access to some of the affected areas, you need a government-issued pass. And the government bans most NGOs from soliciting public donations. Only large charities, like China Red Cross, are allowed to openly fundraise. But now, more than a month after the earthquake, the Chinese media and even the general public are questioning where all the money is going.

Tian Jun says her organization, Chengdu 5-12, is as transparent as it gets. She points to a ledger, essentially sheets of paper taped to the wall.

Jun (voice of interpreter): See here, we spent 120 yuan, and it says what it's for.

She says the list is posted everyday online. And, she says, her organization spends very little on administrative costs.

Jun: We're not allowed to raise money from the public yet, but I think we will someday.

In the meantime, it's the Chinese government that's providing office space for her organization.

In Chengdu, I'm Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

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