A week has passed since Tropical Storm Kalmaegi skirted northern Taiwan, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The government's half-hearted post mortem into the storm's aftermath, meanwhile, continues.
The unusual nature of the storm and its relative lack of strong wind led many to believe that Kalmaegi did not pose a serious threat. But with 20 people confirmed killed and several others missing, we are reminded that the forces of nature should never be underestimated.
One of the strangest things about the storm was the lack of calls from the media and the public for someone to stand up and take responsibility for the government’s lack of preparedness. One could only imagine the outcry that would have ensued if such events had occurred under the previous administration. Those who should take the blame, such as Minister of the Interior Liao Liou-yi (廖了以), got off lightly.
Maybe it would be too much to request that the government pass on some of the blame to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators, whose unreasonable partisan bickering resulted in a more than 12-month delay in the implementation of the Democratic Progressive Party government’s eight-year flood prevention package.
Instead, we have been treated to passing the buck par excellence, with Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) top-level meeting on Monday blaming the Central Weather Bureau and requesting that it submit a report on how to improve its forecasting capabilities. This call came despite the bureau’s warning last Wednesday — a full day before the storm made landfall — that Kalmaegi would bring “considerable” amounts of rain to both east and west coasts.
Another diversion was the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office announcement that it would launch an investigation into whether corruption played a role in the breakdown of infrastructure.
With the government now locked in an argument with legislators about where the funds for future flood control projects should come from, it has managed to divert attention from its pitiful response to the first natural disaster since it came to office.
KMT Legislator Chang Sho-wen’s (張碩文) claim that the government should be given credit for the way it dealt with the storm was disgraceful.
Two months into its first term, the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) government was widely and deservedly condemned following the Pachang Creek Incident, as it exposed serious flaws in the country’s emergency rescue management mechanism. Still, it learned from that experience and eventually put effective controls in place that kept deaths to a minimum during much more serious tests, such as Typhoon Longwang (2005, two dead) and last year’s Typhoon Sepat (1 dead).
The new government should know that throwing billions of dollars into new flood prevention work can only achieve so much. Lame promises that cannot possibly be kept, such as Liu’s ridiculous vow to solve the flooding problem once and for all, are also not the way forward.
Flooded residences and damaged crops are inevitable during typhoon season, but such a large death toll is, as the previous administration showed, preventable.
The new government needs to learn from last week’s errors — and needs to do so fast, before the next storm hits.