Mon, Jul 16, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Typhoon holidays are a silly tool to win votes

By Chang Hsun-ching 張勳慶

Nature has not been kind to Taiwan and Japan this month. Japan has suffered calamitous flooding and the BBC asked how 200 people could have died in a country with such a great reputation for disaster prevention, despite prior warnings.

Meanwhile, as Typhoon Maria swept past northern Taiwan, politicians and government departments were mainly concerned about how their response would play out in the Nov. 24 local elections, which was followed by public bickering, the likes of which we have seen so often before.

Let us remember what happened when Typhoon Nari battered Taiwan in September 2001, turning the Taipei MRT tunnels into sewers and nearly overflowing the flood barriers along the Tamsui River and its tributaries that are supposed to be effective for at least 100 years. Some buses could not run because of bridge closures.

In the 17 years that have passed since then, Taiwan has seen governments come and go. Tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars have been spent on flood control projects, but with much less heavy rain than Japan has experienced lately, they all turn to mush.

It only takes a short burst of heavy rain for water to build up on road surfaces, making them difficult to drive on. The basic drainage systems do not work properly even on ordinary weather days, but all officials can do is to keep parroting banalities like how extreme weather has become the normal state of affairs.

This time around, swarms of people started their typhoon holidays an hour early, causing traffic snarl-ups in Taipei and New Taipei City and making commuters look more like refugees.

You have to wonder what would happen in the event of a nuclear accident. Could people really be evacuated as they are in scripted drills?

A friend from Osaka, Japan, who often does volunteer work in Taiwan told me that the idea of “typhoon holidays” seems very odd from a Japanese perspective.

He said that when something like a typhoon happens in Japan, civil servants all have to go to work and perform their duty of safeguarding people’s lives and property. At the very least, they have to inspect their workplaces, fix any damage and clean up any mess.

However, administrative reform has become a stale joke in Taiwan. When a natural disaster happens, how often does the administrative system operate at least normally enough for people to be able to contact the authorities?

There is also the factor of national attitudes about self-discipline and keeping order. When floods like those caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 happen again, or if there is another typhoon as powerful as Nari, will the government be able to keep the damage to a minimum?

Politicians only know how to use typhoon holidays to bash their opponents and grab votes, and a large percentage of the public think they have won a prize when they get a typhoon holiday.

Then there are the vegetable profiteers and resellers who make a fast buck out of bad weather, and civil servants who take the chance to sneak away from their post.

As for the media, instead of pondering whether Taiwan can effectively protect against natural disasters and climate change, they always get hung up on the silly question of who got the issue of typhoon holidays right or wrong.

When the next natural disaster comes around, they are likely to argue about it again. It is a national pastime that people never tire of, but it is not a healthy one.

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