Mon, Aug 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List

What next for the disaster zones?

By Lin Wan-i 林萬億

Two weeks have passed since Typhoon Morakot brought disastrous floods and landslides to southern and central Taiwan. According to the three-stage view of disaster relief, we have now entered the second phase: short-term recovery.

However, many tasks associated with the first phase — emergency rescue — have not been completed. For example, defining disaster zones, exhuming bodies, evacuating the injured and so on. The window of opportunity for most of these tasks has passed. The authorities have come under a lot of criticism for their slow response, and the government’s abilities to handle the disaster are not up to scratch.

Precisely for this reason, as a former government official with experience in several emergency relief efforts, I am duty-bound to remind readers that there is much more to be done. Let’s hope the government can pick up its pace and make up for lost time.

First, the authorities need to speed up recruitment and requisition of personnel and equipment and get them into the disaster zones to carry out tasks such as removing mud and silt, extracting bodies and dead animals, disinfection, drainage and so on. As soon as the weather turns sunny and hot there will be a risk of infection.

Engineers, soldiers, firefighters and health workers need to work as a team. During this period, traffic in and around the disaster zones must be restricted. Other than rescue and relief workers, local residents and relatives, access must be limited to avoid hindering the relief effort.

One effective strategy is cities and counties with plentiful resources “adopting” disaster-hit counties and cities; some media outlets have reported that this has already begun. The local governments can then send in complete task forces, including construction teams, firefighters and medical and social workers, along with equipment and material aid. This would be better than the initial piecemeal approach that has caused headaches for the authorities in disaster-hit counties.

Second, buildings and objects of cultural significance along with the culture, history and memories they carry should be preserved, rather than eradicated by overzealous use of diggers and bulldozers. Many areas that were damaged in this disaster are Aboriginal villages. The Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Council of Cultural Affairs should coordinate to send Aboriginal museum curators, cultural workers and historians into the disaster zones to help with conservation.

Third, relief networks and public services need to be set up in the disaster zones. The authorities need to clarify the identities of the dead and injured and make inventories of damaged property, crops, farm animals and fisheries, factories, shops and so on. Victims should be compensated swiftly through simple administrative procedures that will not add to their worries, and according to uniform criteria as far as is possible.

Fourth, with the new school year fast approaching, orphaned students and those whose schools have been badly damaged or destroyed need to be allocated to other schools and provided with social support. The best way is for the students’ friends or relatives to locate a school for them. Where students have no friends or family, the parents’ association at the new school should adopt them, while their schoolbooks, clothes, lunches and other expenses should be covered by government subsidies.

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