Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Dealing with environmental messes

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲

Two years after the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot, the predictions in the book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein are unfortunately being played out. The state, business, charities and other social control organizations are using this “opportunity” to force Aborigines down from the mountains, taking them away from their homes in order to get their hands on their traditional territory.

By contrast, the Aboriginal filmmaker Maywa Biho’s film Light up My Life shows how Aborigines are working hard to turn their situation around, with young Aborigines returning to the Kanakanavu tribe to start growing millet and other traditional crops again.

This is a most astonishing example of how people can adapt to the disasters brought by climate change. What is now no more than a flicker of light at the end of a very long tunnel may well grow ever bigger, ever stronger and ever brighter.

The Kanakanavu tribe, on the banks of Dakanuwa Creek in Greater Kaohsiung’s Namasiya District (那瑪夏), was not damaged by Morakot, but the film shows how the truncated roads are causing serious problems. Some may sigh and say “man cannot conquer nature” and that the mountains must simply be sealed off, but those living in the mountains are also people, and it is important to maintain risk evaluations of the communications, development and ecological situation.

Some of the traditional tribal areas that Aborigines want to return to or rebuild have, for technical reasons, been designated as dangerous areas. If the same stringent standards were applied to the illegal hotels dotting the hillsides around Cingjing Farm (清境農場) in Nantou County, one can only wonder if the reissuing of legal permits would even be discussed, not to mention the nuclear waste storage area in Taitung County’s Daren Township (達仁), where the rock is so soft that even a three-year-old could crush it.

This is not really a question of what is good for the goose, it is more an example of how technical expertise always gets distorted by political and commercial interests.

Look at the reconstruction of the roads connecting this tribe to the outside world. Given that the government had decided that improvements to the Suhua Freeway did not present any real technical problems, there should not be any reason why these far less ambitious road reconstruction projects cannot be completed. The government is building Freeway No. 5, a long cement corridor, just so that tourists will be able to reach Sun Moon Lake faster, making it look environmentally friendly through ecological engineering. If it can do this, of course it can also lower the environmental impact of a small industrial access road to meet safety requirements.

The crux of the problem is cost-efficient analysis and resource distribution. In order to attract Chinese tourism, billions of New Taiwan dollars were spent on improving the Alishan road so that it could accommodate large tour buses.

The road to the tribe, however, was postponed for two years, making it impossible to transport local produce by small trucks and avoid losses. People with chronic illnesses would not go to the hospital because it was so inconvenient to do so, and of course there were delays that put people’s lives at risk.

The Aborigines that have left the mountain areas following the exhortations of government, business and charity organizations have come to identify with the “disaster victim” label given to them by the government. They have been swallowed up by the machine that is global capitalism, leaving behind the land of their ancestors and the diverse lives they had led there, forced to specialize in a single salable skill such as sculpting, singing or dancing.

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