Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to wake up and smell the mud

Taiwan's position in the Pacific where two tectonic plates meet makes for a fabulous landscape, but also for frequent earthquakes and typhoons. Thus the nation bears a heavy burden in providing for disaster prevention and relief.

The Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake destroyed many homes in central Taiwan's mountain regions, as did Typhoon Toraji and the flooding from last week's Typhoon Mindulle. The south is also suffering from this latest disaster.

Academia Sinica on Tuesday passed a resolution suggesting that the government establish an independent "national land planning commission" (國土規劃委員會) and write a "national land environment law" (國土環境法) to govern the future use and development of land.

Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) stressed the importance of planning national land use, noting that provincial, county and city governments lack money and manpower for the task. Using the Keelung River as an example, Lee said that although the river runs through both Keelung City and Taipei County, no city or county government is in charge of handling river-related issues. As a result, Lee said, both Hsichih and Taipei City are building river embankments, thus forcing floodwaters further downstream.

Academia Sinica's suggestion deserves urgent action, as the government needs to establish an oversight agency for land planning and conservation. The legislature should make this a priority and draft such legal frameworks soon.

To develop agriculture in the early years of Taiwan's history, farmers intensively developed mountain areas, causing extensive soil erosion. As a result, the nation faces frequent mudslides as a result of typhoons or heavy rains.

In addition, businesses have developed many mountain areas with good views as leisure parks and holiday cottage developments. Unfortunately, these uses too have planted the seeds of future mudslides. Although these businesses can make a profit before a storm arrives, once a disaster occurs the residents and their neighbors must pay with their lives and assets. These are problems that the government should be able to prevent before disasters happen.

Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) will soon lead a group of lawmakers to Nantou County, which was severely damaged by the 921 earthquake, Typhoon Toraji and Typhoon Mindulle. This group will research possible misconduct in land developments and examine whether the government was negligent in local infrastructure and construction regulations.

During the last four years the DPP administration has been ridiculed by its opponents as lacking administrative and legislative experience. This is no longer an accurate criticism. Now that the president has won a second term and Premier Yu Shyi-kun has four years of administrative experience, the government should turn its attention to issues related to ordinary people's lives and not focus exclusively on questions such as international recognition and resolving the cross-strait question.

As for the legislature, as the opposition has a majority and legislators continue to be more interested in partisan battles than in drafting and passing useful legislation, the DPP's record of legislation for the betterment of ordinary people's lives is less than impressive.

As the nation faces a barrage of natural calamities, politicians intoxicated with political struggle should turn their attention to the more urgent issues of land-use planning and conservation. If they don't, they will be cast aside in the year-end legislative elections.

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