The Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency has just announced the results of the classification of hillside communities, with 509 locations nationwide now officially on an unsafe watch list. Of these, New Taipei City has the most — 109 — of any city or county, and nine of these were classed as level A, the highest risk level, but just how relevant is this watch list?
The agency expects people to seek out this information by themselves. What is it thinking? Does “public safety” not mean anything to the agency?
The agency has only announced the classification results, but has not identified the potentially unsafe hillside communities by name because it does not want to affect property values.
Can we be sure that the agency’s information is accurate, given that certain properties have been on the watch list for over a decade, despite weathering typhoons and heavy storms and remaining seemingly unscathed?
Also, it seems that these “unsafe” communities are simply put on the watch list, but nothing is done to address the problems.
Under pressure to announce this data about the unsafe communities, the agency is acting like the proverbial ostrich with its head firmly in the sand, and it is not being serious enough about measures to improve the safety of these properties.
The agency’s classification results are based upon a preliminary visual inspection form drawn up more than a decade ago. Far from involving a first-hand safety inspection of the actual communities, it is simply a set of results based entirely on the subjective deliberations of inspectors derived using incomplete survey data and a poorly devised evaluation system.
Even more worrying is that the publishing of these results will not only provoke an uproar, but will also turn the government and the hillside community disaster prevention field into an international laughing stock.
There is also a great deal of confusion around how communities come to be put on the official watch list.
In the wake of the 1997 Lincoln Mansions (林肯大郡) collapse in what is now New Taipei City, local governments nationwide put hillside communities that have been assessed onto watch lists if they are thought to be unsafe.
However, communities developed over the past 10 years, or those without management committees, can fall through the gaps in the system, and it is sometimes unclear whether they have actually been inspected firsthand using the current inspection form.
In addition, communities are removed from the watch list once the initial questions over their safety have been addressed, but the local geological and topographical conditions of these hillside areas could still change in the wake of a torrential rain or an earthquake. So does that mean that just because a community has been removed from the danger watch list that it can be deemed perfectly safe?
It is no easy task, deciding the level of risk to assign to hillside communities, but if the authorities think that they have done their duty simply by occasionally announcing the existence of a danger, then there is little to distinguish these officials from the pests that destroy the trees in the national parks.
The government should pay attention to the opinions of land conservation experts, and allow civil servants who actually understand land conservation to draw up policies, instead of having a bunch of politicians, who thought Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above was fascinating, make a mess of things and place people in danger.