Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Listen to the land for disaster relief

By Chen Szu-hsien 陳賜賢

While Typhoon Toraji was bringing disaster to Taiwan, it looked as though the authorities had a poor grasp of the situation. Apart from using telephones to communicate with the outside world, central and local disaster prevention centers actually had to rely on satellite relayed TV broadcasts to keep abreast of the situation. Taiwan is a large exporter of computers and communications equipment, and if we cannot take advantage of our own strengths -- computer and communications equipment -- then knowledge of, control of, and reaction to disasters will always be delayed.

The 921 earthquake of 1999 is a glaring example: the real physical extent of the disaster area only became known one to two days after the quake. As a result, the most critical rescue period was lost, resulting in a greater loss of human life than would otherwise have been the case.

Typhoons and earthquakes are the two main reasons for natural disasters in Taiwan. They lead to landslides, collapses and mudslides in the upper reaches of rivers and streams, while in their middle and lower reaches, the combined effect of these phenomena is to create mountain torrents and flooding.

Due to changes in the topographical and hydrological environment and an increasing non-water-permeable surface area run-off is concentrated. This contributes to water disasters in metropolitan areas. The flooding that Typhoon Trami brought to Kaohsiung is an obvious example. Low atmospheric pressure and strongly gusting typhoon winds create freak waves that endanger coastal areas. If a typhoon and an earthquake struck at the same time, the results would be even worse. In the midst of all this, the authorities must propose concrete measures and carry out disaster prevention work. We have the Disaster Prevention and Rescue Law, but the government's understanding of and resolve to implement this law must be improved.

In reality, there is no way to avoid these disasters. It is the government's duty, however, to warn the populations of potential disaster areas, including potential mudslide danger areas, dangerous mountain slope areas, and areas where there is a danger of flooding. It is also its duty to continuously make public announcements prior to the typhoon season each year, to create danger awareness in the local population.

Next, disaster prevention preparations should be checked for compliance with the Disaster Prevention and Rescue Law, and specialized state and civil organizations should be mobilized to prepare for exercises.

Once disaster strikes, it will be possible to carry out rescue efforts and other responses using the most advanced equipment in the shortest time possible.

It is regrettable that the government has not implemented most of the Disaster Prevention and Rescue Law. Where are the safe areas for township governments in case of a mud slide or a flood, for example?

Which roads are safe to use to escape disaster-struck areas? What about assistance for the elderly, women and children, the handicapped? Public announcements about the locations of temporary parking lots and other safe areas during floods? Information regarding safe water levels in rivers and pump station operations? All of the above are non-existent. My suggestion is that supervisory systems be installed at places where disaster easily strikes, such as rivers and drainage channels, and that continuous access be provided via the Internet, geographical information systems or other channels to allow people to evaluate the situation and prepare for disaster prevention.

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