Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Relief means action, not words

Typhoon Mindulle has brought an unbelievable disaster to central and southern Taiwan since Friday. Some aspects of the disaster are severe enough to be comparable to the tragic consequences of the 921 Earthquake five years ago. Nothing is more urgent than rescue work at the moment. We urge the central government to immediately relocate the rescue effort's headquarters to central Taiwan to carry out more effective disaster relief.

Major flooding, caused by the torrential rains brought by the typhoon, is in fact a result of an accumulation of long-term problems: deforestation, illegal or excessive land use and improper river management. Also, the deteriorating quality of mountain soil as a result of earthquakes makes Taiwan vulnerable to severe flooding.

Ever since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) came to power over four years ago, Taiwan has had four major floods, caused by typhoons Nari, Xangsane, Toraji and Mindulle. Developing a concrete disaster prevention system to preserve Taiwan's environment has become something the government should focus on immediately, lest other tragedies occur.

There are several weaknesses in the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) disaster response and relief mechanism when it is confronted with a natural disaster with record-breaking precipitation. Many high-ranking government officials reside in the least typhoon-affected city, Taipei, which had only a few evening showers during a warm weekend, and saw hardly a trace of the typhoon. Plus, the emergency reporting system between the central and local governments failed to work properly and government officials therefore misjudged the scale of the disaster in central and southern Taiwan.

As a result, government agencies have once again lagged far behind non-government religious and charity groups in relief and rescue work. Meanwhile, our leaders are not aware of the disaster situation, and cannot determine the order of priorities. For example, Premier Yu Shyi-kun, who controls the most government resources, surprisingly visited Chiayi and Hualien Counties right after the typhoon -- rather than Taichung and Nantou Counties, which were the most seriously affected.

Ironically, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), who has no authority over the relief and rescue work, made an inspection to the disaster areas. Nevertheless, she was completely unable to help with the various demands of the disaster victims. No wonder the victims said she and her bodyguards succeeded only in blocking the traffic.

According to the Cabinet's Council of Agriculture (COA), it will offer NT$5 billion in emergency loans to farmers and fishermen in disaster areas, at an interest rate of 1.5 percent. In comparison, however, the government has offered NT$280 billion of loans to the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (台灣高鐵), at an interest rate of 1 percent, not to mention the NT$10 billion in loans that are interest-free.

No wonder people condemn the government for favoritism at this very crucial moment. Does the government really have to make money off of people who lost their homes and loved ones?

In light of the government's apparent incompetence, we suggest that all religious and charity groups nationwide, along with disaster relief and rescue organizations, quickly propose concrete relief plans and set up a fund for donations. The fund should be jointly-handled by the government's disaster relief center under appropriate monitoring and management, so as to avoid political interference with, or abuse of, the fund.

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