Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 8 News List

It's time to clean up our streets and reputation

By Peter Chen 陳炳煌

After admiring the rural beauty of Taiwan, an elderly Japanese couple surnamed Nakamura arrived in Puli (埔里), Nantou County, in March as part of the "long-stay" vacation program initiated by the Tourism Bureau. However, after only a couple of weeks the two called an abrupt end to their visit, complaining that that the streets of Puli were strewn with trash and dog feces.

After much soul-searching, the Puli township chief decided to mobilize the residents to partake in spring-cleaning and designated the 10th of each month as spring-cleaning Day. Recently, when receiving a group of foreign tourists, the town went out of its way to make the foreign guests feel at home.

Taking advantage of this issue while it is still in the news, I would like to take the opportunity to suggest the government launch a "clean streets" campaign. Furthermore, I would like to present a number of facts in support of my appeal.

First of all, the cleanliness of a nation's streets is a criterion for determining the degree to which a nation has advanced: Taiwan has made strenuous efforts to address the issue of environmental protection and pursue sustainable development. However, since we Taiwanese are unable to keep our streets clean, talk of this is simply meaningless. Having spent so much money and expended so many resources to develop the nation's tourism industry, how can we let filthy streets offset our efforts and allow individuals to damage our environment? And let others clean it up for them?

Second, if people refrain from littering, then nobody has to clean up after them: Prevention is better than a cure. The government should seek to promote dignity and self-respect by reminding the public that it is a selfish, ignorant and shameful act to litter.

Third, those who litter should be fined or sentenced to perform community service: Apply Article 23 of the country's Waste Disposal Act (廢棄物清理法), which stipulates the imposition of a fine of between NT$1,200 and NT$6,000 on those who litter in public places.

Serious offenders could also be charged under traffic safety regulations and even face jail terms. That is, only when our national leaders are willing to take responsibility can our country remain competitive in every aspect.

For a long period of time now, several non-governmental organizations have devoted their efforts to cleaning parks and streets around the nation. On Earth Day, April 22, the Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassion Relief Foundation also mobilized around 30,000 volunteers to clean the streets nationwide. The Taiwanese chapter of Lions Club International also once mobilized members in a clean-up the streets campaign from Keelung County to Pingtung County.

These people felt a sense of achievement after completing the mission. However, within a few days, the streets were filthy and chaotic again. The reason behind such a phenomenon is that there has been a lack of coordination of enforcement and promulgation of regulations.

Thus, I would like to urge the government to cooperate with non-governmental organizations to launch a "clean streets" campaign. Each local government should also be resolved to strictly enforce the law after an education period of three to six months. If that happens, Taiwan's clean streets will become the pride of the nation.

Peter Chen is a professor in the department of environmental science and engineering at Tunghai University.

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