Friday, September 4, 2009

Experts call for policy change after Morakot

In the first interview with news media after the devastating Typhoon Morakot, President Ma Ying-jeou said that human beings should not try to compete with Mother Nature. He told the United Evening News that it is getting more and more difficult to forecast the strength and power of natural disasters in the face of global climate change. The paper said he stressed that government agencies should note which areas are not safe for people to live in, and relocate residents to safer ground. Such measures would help prevent a repeat of the fate that met Shiaolin Village, where mudslides set off by Morakot buried the entire village along with most of its inhabitants.

The United Daily News reported that Professor Liao Pen-chuan of National Taiwan University noted that every time a typhoon hits the island, the government spends large amounts of human resources and money on disaster rescue and relief, on bridge repairs, road construction, community reconstruction and flood prevention engineering. This happens time and again, wasting precious resources and taking a heavy toll on society. He urged the government to adjust its thinking regarding disaster prevention and rescue, by reviewing the nation’s land cultivation policies.

When opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members criticized the government of President Ma for not realizing soon enough the severity of Typhoon Morakot and the slow disaster rescue response, the ruling Kuomintang members countered by slamming the alleged failure of the NT$80 billion (US$2.4 billion) flood prevention system constructed under the former DPP administration.

Water resources expert Lee Hong-yuan believes that when people settle in a place they are not supposed to be, overdevelop the land, especially on hill slopes, they will eventually face nature’s backlash. In The Journalist magazine, he suggested that government should roll out overall policies regarding relocation, employment, and schooling in order to prevent social problems from developing.

Lee said the massive earthquake that hit central Taiwan on Sept. 21st, 1999 has forever changed the island’s geology and water flows. The potential threat from mudslides and river flow changes come with every typhoon. He strongly recommended that the government undertake a complete review of current geology and water flows in Taiwan and set up a comprehensive early warning system for mudslides. The government should not merely look for a quick fix, he stressed.

Chung-Ho Wang, a research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Earth Sciences has long studied rainfall trends. In an interview with Commonwealth magazine, he indicated that Taiwan’s geographic position, sitting between the largest continent and the largest ocean, makes the island’s climate more volatile than most other nations in the world. Wang noted the authority in charge of typhoon disaster prevention should not rest solely with the Water Resources Agency and the Central Weather Bureau, which are below the ministerial level. Global warming issues affect national security, and should come under the scrutiny of higher administrative levels. This view is echoed by Huang Chin-shan, the former director of the Water Resources Agency, who thinks the government should set up an inter-ministerial unit to deal with climate change issues, according to the Commercial Times.

Typhoon Morakot did not only expose the potential crisis that extreme climate change could bring, but also showed that ecological conservation in Taiwan is in peril. The United Evening News reported a group of gangsters nicknamed the “mountain rats” who have allegedly been illegally logging in remote mountains for some time. Their criminal acts have damaged the conservation of soil and water, and provided the ideal conditions for potentially disastrous mudslides in mountainous areas.

According to the United Daily News, one of the worst hit villages by Morakot was Linbian Village in eastern Pingtung County, famous for its seafood. Fish cultivation is actively developed by pumping ground water to support the fish farming. This constant water extraction has caused the ground level to drop, resulting in one-third of the village now lying below sea level. Every time a typhoon hits, Linbian is flooded, with residual water accumulating for long period.

It is time to take an inventory of Typhoon Morakot’s cruel lessons so that the 650 lost lives were not in vain. A China Times editorial summed up the disaster, “Taiwan paid dearly for this catastrophe. We can’t let the price be paid for nothing. We must carefully observe and learn from the environment we are living in with a humble attitude. We must seriously deal with the backlash by Mother Nature.”

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.