Wed, Jan 17, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Disasters reaffirm friendships

The death toll from Saturday's earthquake in Central America, which registered 7.6 on the Richter scale, has climbed to more than 600. The quake also left an estimated 500 to 1,500 people missing and many communities in ruin in El Salvador. Taiwanese may easily empathize with the disaster victims -- given that a little more than a year ago, Taiwan itself was hit by a major earthquake that left more than 2,000 people dead. Despite all-out efforts by the government and NGOs, central Taiwan is still facing obstacles in rebuilding the areas devastated by the 921 earthquake.

Taiwan has been among the countries expressing concern and sending rescue teams to El Salvador, one of Taiwan's stable diplomatic allies. Two rescue teams, consisting of a total of 90 people, are now at work there. The Buddhist Compassionate Relief Tzu-chi Foundation (慈濟功德會), the charity group that won overwhelming applause for its relief efforts in the aftermath of the 921 quake, has sent a team to El Salvador to assist in relief efforts there. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up a special task force to coordinate the country's relief efforts. The government has also donated US$200,000, while China Airlines has given US$60,000.

The response from Taiwan's government, NGOs and private sector has been swift -- an indication that Taiwan has learned from its traumatic experience. Taiwan received generous help from around the world after the 921 quake. Now is the time to repay the kindness of the international community. It is also the time for solid action in promoting non-governmental and humanitarian action. Taiwan has been slow in the past to respond to disasters in other parts of the world, due to the country's international isolation and the lack of proper channels for relief action. Now is the time to change this situation.

In El Salvador, Taiwanese rescuers have worked with teams from other countries, racing against time to save lives in the first precious 72 hours. Our prayers go to the victims of the disaster, and our praise to Taiwan's rescuers and relief workers.

If rescue work is a race against time, relief and reconstruction are a tug of war with time. More than one year after the 921 quake, the reconstruction work remains less than satisfactory, with many families still living in prefab houses and many students still attending classes in makeshift classrooms. The livelihoods of many quake victims have yet to be properly attended to. Still many others live in the shadow of the trauma. But no matter how Taiwan has fared in the relief and reconstruction work, this country has the obligation to share its experience with El Salvador, so that its ally may be spared from a repetition of the same mistakes.

In 1995, the Kobe earthquake left 4,600 people dead in Japan. The destruction caused by the quake was massive and reconstruction efforts continue to this day, more than five years later. But the city is quickly rising again from its ruins. It has built a ?23 billion soccer stadium, where it will host some of the 2002 World Cup games. The city hopes that such a major event will pull the residents out of the long shadow of the 1995 quake. The wounds of the 921 earthquake may take quite some time to heal, and El Salvador is now in the middle of another catastrophe. But friendship and international aid can bring the Salvadoran people the confidence that, while quakes may cause a country to stumble, they cannot prevent it from standing up again.

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