Originally Published 2013-08-31 13:57:52 Published on Aug 31, 2013
Despite the Chinese government's repeated stress on disaster reduction and regards it as an important factor to realise the overall goal of sustainable development, more needs to be done on disaster management and prevention.
Disaster Preparedness in China
" China has been a country prone to devastating natural disasters ranging from floods to earthquakes to droughts to grassland fires. The 1931 floods with a death toll of about 4 million, the Yellow River Flood of 1887 with a death toll of about 2 million and the Shaanxi earthquake in 1556 with a death toll of 0.83 million makes the country appear in the list of countries which faced the world's top 10 deadliest natural disasters. Natural disasters affect more than 200 people on a yearly basis, which have become a major hurdle to economic and social development. The government has repeatedly stressed on disaster reduction and regards it as an important factor to realise the overall goal of sustainable development. The National Commission for Disaster Reduction coordinates and launches disaster reduction activities, guides disaster reduction operations and promotes international exchanges and cooperation. In 1998, the country issued the Disaster Reduction Plan (1998-2010). As part of the overall emergency plan - special plans for disaster relief, forest fire, earthquakes, floods and others were established. In theory, the country also has warning and prediction networks for disasters which include meteorological forecasting, earthquake warning observations etc. A seismic network catalogue was also established in 2009.I However, the ground realities present a completely different picture. The Lushan earthquake (also known as the Ya'an earthquake) of April 2013 was approximately 116 kms from Chengdu, along the Longmenshan Fault, in the same province impacted by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Aftershocks were recorded 1,815 times.II The Sichuan provincial government's report stated that 186 people lost their lives while 11,248 had been injured and 21 were missing. However, credibility of the numbers remains doubtful. Additionally, there were concerns that causalities in the neighbouring Baoxing County may have been unreported because of inaccessibility due to road blockage, power cut off and absence of phone network connectivity. Reflecting on the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, several questions emerged on the quality of public construction. What was particularly questioned was what led to so many losses in the first place. Building collapses were particularly pointed out, and apparently the collapsed school buildings represented the shoddy construction projects. Also, after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the government was stung by criticisms that it was too slow in responding, despite the fact that the earthquake was classified as Level 1. However, after the Lushan earthquake in April this year, the government immediately mobilised the army for rescue efforts and classified the earthquake at Level 1 despite though the magnitude was much less than what it was in 2008III . State-run media channels took care in not revealing anything that would lead to the creation of a negative image of the government, which is why news focussed more on promoting the government's rescue efforts, rather than on the victims who lost their homes. However, images of children living in tents continued to appear in local newspapers, which pointed to the fact that relocation was not complete despite the claims made by official sources. Survivors also disrupted traffic waving protest signs, demanding help and shouting at the police. In Zhongba village, part of Baoxing county, residents stated that it took two days for help to arrive, and when it did, supplies and tents were in short supplyIV . Almost all buildings were damaged while many collapsed, which is why relief tents were desperately required. Besides the delay, it also points to the fact that flimsy and substandard construction still exists in the country despite the announcements and efforts made by the party leadership. On July 22, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake jolted the areas between Minxian and Zhangxian counties in the north-western province of Gansu, which left about 95 people dead and at least 1,461 injured according to reports in the China Daily. Reports from Gansu's provincial government stated that 2.36 million people have been affected, which constitutes a direct economic loss of more than 17.6 billion Yuan or US$ 2.88 billion. It further stated that those who lost their homes have been already resettled, while all the injured have received medical treatment. On July 17, Premier Li Keqiang began his tour to the Western province of Gansu. Gansu is an impoverished province just like its counterparts in the Western part of the country. The growth and rise of China's Western region has been envisaged by the leadership to be the crucial part of the national strategy for economic rejuvenation. During his visit to Gansu, Premier Li also visited Minxian county. He assured the affected that their destroyed homes would be rebuilt. He also inspected the railroad under construction between Gansu and Chongqing, while stressing the strategic importance of infrastructure. The Western Development Strategy was launched in 2000, yet the Western region of the country continues to be severely economically challenged, particularly when compared to the coastal and Eastern parts of the country. Despite the fact that the provinces in the Western parts, Tibet and Xinjiang, for example, have the largest territories, economic development is close to negligible in the region. Natural disasters further deteriorate the situation. Lack of infrastructure, as had been the case during the Lushan earthquake of 2013 becomes a serious challenge to rescue operations. Despite the fact that the leadership has set up early warning systems, various parts of the country continues to suffer from disasters. While relief provisioning is claimed to be immediate, ground realities are completely different. Natural disasters are a serious impediment to economic and social development. However, the problem is yet to be better analysed in the country as is evident from the victims' responses and losses. For example, allocated funds for disaster relief in Gansu could not be utilised immediately and to the fullest due to delays in transportation of relief, heavy rains, and absence of proper transportation facilities. Also, while reports in the state run China Daily, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, stated that all those who lost their homes have been resettled, Premier Li's promise to the affected about reconstruction of the lost homes points out to the fact that the affected are still living in temporary shelters. While Premier Li's promises of reconstructing the lost houses are welcome, clearly there is need to do more on disaster management and prevention, given the fact that the country aims at a more sustainable path of development in which disaster preparedness becomes a crucial factor. (The author is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation).   I.     http://data.earthquake.cn/datashare/globeEarthquake_csn.html II.     http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2013-04-22/002926902901.shtml III.     http://ajw.asahi.com/article/asia/china/AJ201304220115 IV.     http://ajw.asahi.com/article/asia/china/AJ201304230010 "
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