Thu, Oct 13, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Rebuilding is harmful if not well thought out

By Fu Chih-nan 傅志男

During an inspection of reconstruction work at Maolin National Scenic Area in Greater Kaohsiung following the destruction wrought by Typhoon Morakot, I discovered that the roadwork was actually destroying part of the forest. Extra soil and gravel were needed to build the foundation for parts of the road that were being widened, and they were being dug out of the mountains to the side of the road on a truly alarming scale.

This robbing Peter to pay Paul farce is being played out at the scenic park. Many of Maolin’s roads were devastated by landslides during the typhoon, and reconstruction has been going on for more than two years now. This includes widening a stretch of road between Wanshan (萬山) and Duona (多納) villages. My colleagues and I went there to conduct a detailed inspection of the roadworks and found a number of problems.

First, the hills at the side of this stretch of road were dotted with diggers scooping out swathes of soil and gravel that were then transported over to the road to fill in the foundations of the widened sections. This carving up of the mountains has left the tops treeless, leveled and exposed. Has this method undergone government evaluation and has it been approved? Is it safe?

Second, the foliage along the public road — including the Chinese pistache trees with their vibrant reds and the golden rain trees now in bloom — is not only pleasing to the eye, it also performs an important function of keeping the soil anchored and thus preventing landslides. The roadside construction work has decimated all this, leaving many of the trees either dead or dying.

Finally, just how big do the roads in the Maolin National Scenic Area need to be? Were they really too narrow before they were destroyed by Morakot? Did they really need to be widened after the disaster?

All of these issues are directly related to the threat of landslides during natural disasters. Tree coverage on the mountain anchors the soil, as the network of roots keeps it in place. With the top of the mountains denuded and exposed to the elements, torrential rains can trigger landslides, destroying the roads at the foot of the mountains. Moreover, any dirt left over from engineering works on mountain roads is generally discarded over the side of the road. This covers the vegetation below, burying it under mud and rock, and of course it dies. This, then, makes landslides more likely. It is a vicious cycle.

Taiwan has the highest density of road engineering projects in the world. Does it really need bigger, wider roads? Ecology experts were opposed to the construction of the New Central Cross-island Highway running from Shuili to Tatajia. Not surprisingly, after it was completed, it has brought nothing but problems, with landslides occurring year after year. It has been called the nation’s most expensive stretch of road. You can go there any day or night, and there will be, somewhere along the road, maintenance work going on. It is the perfect example of “sustained engineering.”

The mantra on everyone’s lips these days is “sustainable development, cherish the planet.” However, the government’s policies do not seem to be headed in this direction: They are only promoting sustained engineering projects that trigger disasters.

We left Maolin a little after four in the afternoon, and we were hit by pounding rain, so heavy it was quite disconcerting. I spared a thought for the engineers and workers on the mountain. Are they safe? They may well become the first victims of this flawed government policy. It will be the forests, the public and the wildlife who have to bear the results of all this.

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