Media reports have said that Tropical Storm Kalmaegi caused serious flooding and landslides. The death toll rose to 20 and six were missing as of Tuesday, while hundreds of thousands of households suffered blackouts or a suspension of water supply, not to mention the massive agricultural loss. I can’t help but wonder what was the cause of these losses.
Some blame it on the Central Weather Bureau’s inadequate forecasts. But it’s unfair to blame everything on the bureau. The government’s and public’s lack of disaster prevention and relief awareness is another factor. In addition to global warming and natural factors, there are at least four manmade or systemic flaws.
First: ineffective soil and water conservation. Poor soil and water conservation and river mismanagement are major causes of the flooding. Most people pay attention to disaster prevention and relief work, and don’t consider the fundamental problem of soil and water, which is the responsibility of the Soil and Water Bureau and the River Management Office.
The division as well as integration of labor between government offices have been problematic issues. For example, many people are unaware of the division of responsibilities for river management, and the media also pay little attention to coordination issues, which also involve issues that cross ministries.
Soil and water conservation is also related to the Forestry Bureau and the Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency. Since authority is unclear, soil and water conservation can’t be effectively implemented.
As these are often mid or long-term issues, it is difficult to notice them, but as soon as a problem occurs, it becomes a hot potato. Meanwhile, these overlapping or gray areas are related to land use along rivers that are the responsibility of local governments, which complicates the problem.
Second: local characteristics. Strictly speaking, the political, economic and geographic situation differs between areas. An example is the illegal use of local rivers or preserved land.
It is hard to explain or handle all issues by applying one standard from the perspective of the government in Taipei. In addition to the national government being distant from local governments, it deals inflexibly with natural disasters because it has to abide by laws and regulations. Ignoring the local situation may lead to problems with governmental or non-governmental disaster prevention abilities and the distribution of resources. This also leads to the next problem.
Third: the uneven distribution of disaster relief resources. Uneven resource distribution between north and south has long been a problem. This problem also exists in terms of disaster relief resources.
Disaster relief manpower and funds in southern Taiwan are inferior to that in the north. Almost all central government agencies with massive budgets and manpower are located in Taipei. Because the media are more developed in the north, disaster relief issues there receive more attention and resources, further aggravating the problem.
This can hardly be resolved in the short term. Take, for example, the former government’s relocation of the Fisheries Agency to Kaohsiung. On the surface, the agency is located in the south, but in fact, the core powers remain in Taipei.
Fourth: the poor disaster-relief system. Manpower, budget and the environment are all crucial to the system’s functions. But the system is operating poorly, which can be seen in the insufficient training of rescue workers and slow mobilization.