Plotting the Sichuan Earthquake's Economic Toll

About 88,000 people are estimated to be missing following China's devastating earthquake two weeks ago. Although Sichuan province is larger than California, analysts say the economic fallout is likely to be contained.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In China, the number of people dead or missing as a result of the earthquake is now estimated to be about 88,000 people. Some are trying to estimate the economic impact as well, as NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

LOUISA LIM: Survivors pick their way through their devastated village. One estimate puts the quake-related damage at $20 billion. And it's been reported just 5 percent of those losses were covered by insurance. But the economic impact will be limited, according to Andy Rothman from CLSA brokerage firm.

Mr. ANDY ROTHMAN (CLSA): One of the reasons the toll is so bad is that the earthquake damage was focused in a very rural, remote area. So it was harder for rescuers to get there. But it also means that there wasn't a lot of industrial production or even significant agricultural production in the area hardest hit. So that's the main reason why the macroeconomic impact will not be significant.

LIM: One preliminary assessment by (unintelligible) securities estimate the quake could drag GDP down by 0.2 percent. Others have warned one of the effects could serve to push up already high inflation. But Andy Rothman says the quake's effects aren't likely to be significant.

Mr. ROTHMAN: My guess is, this is going to be a wash in terms of the economy. There is some damage, but there's also going to be a tremendous amount of rebuilding, which adds to economic activity and growth.

(Soundbite of refugee camp)

LIM: More than 5 million people are now in camps. Most will need new housing and the government says it aims to rebuild roads and cities within three years. Chinese banks have also been told to forgive survivors their bad debts in an effort to revive the economy.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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