Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Coastal protection needs backing

By ChiauWen-yan邱文彥

The fierce winds and rains brought to Taiwan by Tropical Storm Mindulle created serious flooding and mudslides in the southern part of the country. Storm drains were overwhelmed and seawater polluted freshwater supplies in the Taihsi and Kouhu areas of Yunlin County. This is an example of what can be expected from the long neglect of Taiwan's coastlines, which are now beginning to recede.

Subsidence along the west coast is already old news. Areas where this subsidence has taken on serious proportions include Pingtung, Chiayi and Yunlin counties. In recent years, the excessive pumping of ground water has not improved, and the pollution of freshwater by seawater has become a frequent occurrence. The time it takes for flood waters to recede is also increasing.

Extensive reclamation of land along the coast, dams and numerous other man-made structures have all aggravated this situation to such an extent that even villages 20km inland from the coast are liable to flooding.

It is obvious that coastal disaster prevention is an important issue that we ignore at our peril. With population centers gradually subsiding all along the coast, it is a question whether our network of storm drains and channels are adequate. Whether the conventional practice of channeling water and the various measures related to it are sufficient enough need to be examined. If nobody shows concern for the coast, we will see more and more examples of marine environmental protection being pushed aside to make way for short-term economic gain.

Although coastal disaster prevention is a major issue, the destruction of coastlines is supported by local governments through the ignorant conservation ideas of "meeting force with force," by which they mean the large-scale construction of sea walls. Many politicians act superficially to demand that the safety of the people be protected while at the same time making under-the-table deals to obtain funds for dykes and disaster prevention projects. All this gives the impression that disaster prevention projects are a cover for lining the pockets of politicians' cronies.

Administrative bodies here in Taiwan have a hard time resisting the onslaught of politicians who claim to represent the will of the people. Because of a lack of real political will to make improvements, erosion of the coastline has reached shocking levels. According to research commissioned by the Construction and Planning Agency of the Ministry of the Interior, half of Taiwan's 1,000km-long coastline is now "protected" by concrete water breaks, and on the outlying islands including Penghu and Matsu, erosion affects three-quarters of the coastline.

In addition to the building of dams, which have reduced the amount of soil and sediment that is washed down to the coast, the excess of coastal construction of harbors and bays is clear to even the untrained eye.

The nation has 239 fishing harbors, which is approximately one for every 4km to 6km. The Penghu archipelagos, numbering 65 islands -- of which only 20 are inhabited -- has over 60 fishing harbors. Even isolated Lanyu has not been able to escape this harmful sort of infrastructure.

Around the country, rivers are the main source of marine pollution. We can see how the Tienbao River in Kaohsiung acquired the name "Red River" and why the Erjen River has earned the nickname "Black Dragon River." These rivers have been pouring pollution into the sea for years. The local authorities said that the "coloration" -- a euphemism for pollution -- of the water was not harmful to human health. But aren't we all aware that coastal waters, lagoons, bays, river mouths and coral reefs are all areas that are teeming with life?

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