Mon, Oct 12, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The military’s role in disaster time

By Liu Kung-chung 劉孔中

Taiwan’s fragile geology, variable climate and frequent earthquakes and typhoons have produced many disasters over the last century. Taiwan is mostly made up of mountain ranges and people have been forced to populate and develop parts of them, leaving them vulnerable to damage from natural disasters.

As global climate change intensifies, serious disasters will become more frequent, but the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) does not acknowledge or address this situation.

Article 3 of the Act, for example, lists the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Council of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Environmental Protection Administration as the regulatory authorities for disaster prevention and protection — but not the Ministry of National Defense (MND).

The armed forces have always given strong support in disaster prevention and protection efforts at various levels of government and over the years have become an indispensable part of disaster prevention and protection.

As the government draws on its painful lessons and strengthens the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act and other disaster prevention and protection systems, it should recognize the importance of the armed forces and amend the Act to incorporate the experience they have gained from executing the Regulations for Applying for Military Disaster Support (申請國軍支援災害處理辦法).

The government should also consider introducing new legislation and regulations covering military support for such activities to improve the military’s capabilities in peacetime.

This way, the military can take an active role in times of disaster and actively support disaster relief efforts.

Second, to increase the responsibilities of commanding officers and the armed forces, legislation should be passed that equates military support for disaster prevention and protection with combat.

While the armed forces have played an extremely important role in disaster prevention and protection, it has never been part of their training.

This has led to the distribution of insufficient resources and a lack of equipment and personnel training.

This is also why we so often see soldiers using pickaxes and plastic buckets to clean up after disasters, and also why so many soldiers need counseling after participating in this work.

Disaster prevention and protection is also the best and most practical way to evaluate the overall combat readiness of the armed forces.

I suggest that the MND make preparations for disaster prevention and protection part of the military’s war preparations and training curriculum.

The ministry should coordinate with the Central Disaster Prevention and Protection Council and designate troop support zones and draw up a plan for disaster support using resources specific to the various branches of the military.

Article 9, Paragraph 1 of the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act stipulates that military representatives shall serve among a panel of officials and experts on disaster work on a part-time basis. “Military representatives” is a broad term, however, and the people selected may not have expert disaster prevention and protection training.

Current practice involves local command districts partnering with municipal or county-city governments.

However, these districts are part of the traditional system of reserve army mobilization and troops are not stationed there at regular times.

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