Thu, Sep 03, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Disaster contingencies are a must

By Lin Chong-pin 林中斌

Just as people in Taiwan are worrying about global warming and the possibility of more calamitous storms like Typhoon Morakot, reports show that five people have died so far in Taiwan of the new strain of the (A)H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, with four deaths occurring in as many days.

It seems society’s social vigilance “radar” is working more like a driver’s rear-view mirror, focused too much on what has already happened and not enough on what lies ahead. The chances of Taiwan getting hit by another powerful typhoon in the near future are slim, just as the safest place to be on a battlefield is a shell crater. However, other kinds of disasters could happen at any time.

Here are three suggestions and observations: We must be fully prepared to deal with infectious diseases this autumn; we must actively prepare for the possibility of an earthquake and we must be aware that disasters around the world are not caused by global warming alone.

DISEASE

The threat of swine flu is looming. The Department of Health (DOH) is warning the public through widespread media reports that there may be as many as 7 million (A)H1N1 infections in Taiwan. The DOH assures us that the government is fully mobilized to fight the epidemic and everything is under control. However, there are other diseases waiting in the wings.

Experience tells us that autumn is the key season for infectious diseases. There have been outbreaks of more and more different kinds of contagious illnesses around the world in recent years, and the scale of these epidemics is growing.

Medical workers who often travel between Taiwan and China reported an outbreak of pneumonic plague in China’s western Qinghai Province last month and, around the same time, reports of a spate of infections of a type of herpes that attacks internal organs emerged in central China.

Although these reports need further verification, it is advisable to be prepared for the spread of such illnesses well in advance.

I have two suggestions. First, the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should willingly strengthen procedures for notifying each other when diseases break out. Saving lives is more important than saving face. Second, Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine each have their strong points. Practitioners of the two traditions should set aside their prejudices and work together on disease prevention. Chinese herbal medicine, whose history stretches back thousands of years, can sometimes help in cases that specific Western drugs cannot cure.

EARTHQUAKES

Strong earthquakes have been occurring more frequently in Taiwan recently. Although the first half of this year only saw nine quakes above magnitude 5.0 on the Richter scale — fewer than the 19 and 16 that occurred in the same period of last year and 2007 respectively, the frequency has picked up considerably from July onward.

There were four earthquakes above magnitude 5 in the last five days of July. Then, on Aug. 17, two earthquakes stronger than magnitude 6.0 shook the seabed off the coast of Hualien County, followed by one measuring 5.6 in the sea off the Hengchun Peninsula on Aug. 22. During the same period, there was a series of three earthquakes of around magnitude 7.0 in Japanese territorial waters near Taiwan on Aug. 5, Aug. 9 and Aug. 11.

There are two ways of interpreting frequent earthquakes. One is that they reduce the chances of a major quake by releasing accumulated friction forces between tectonic plates. The other is that they are a sign a major earthquake is coming soon.

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