Wed, Oct 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Lifespans in Taitung reflection of income

By Chen Chien-hsien 陳劍賢

The average life expectancy for a Taitung County resident is 75.5 years — five years less than for the nation as a whole and eight years less than for Taipei residents.

Taitung County loves to boast about its pure water and air free of PM2.5 — particles less than 2.5 micrometers wide — but perhaps the county is not quite the Shangri-La it makes itself out to be.

Public health experts attribute the lower average lifespan to an uneven distribution of medical resources. However, neighboring Hualien County has two major teaching hospitals — Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and Mennonite Christian Hospital — but the average life expectancy there is only 76.7 years — slightly higher than for Taitung, but still much lower than Taipei’s.

This example indicates that the uneven distribution of resources between counties and major cities can only be one of the reasons for the difference in average life spans, but not the only reason.

The six counties with the lowest average household incomes are also the six with the lowest life expectancies — according to data from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics — proving that there is a strong correlation between average household income and average length of life.

My family has lived in Taitung County for several generations and I have lived there my whole life, so I know that livelihood is the greatest problem for many Taitung residents.

Several Taitung County commissioners have made tourism a pillar of the county’s economic plan. In the past few years, the county has promoted sports tourism through hot air ballooning, triathlons and surfing events, and has been widely recognized for great results.

Booking.com has listed Taitung City among this year’s 10 up-and-coming destinations worldwide. County residents commend the county government’s sterling efforts to revitalize the region, but realize that there is still much to do.

Most residents attribute the gap between expectations and reality to transport infrastructure not having kept pace with business growth. Although Taitung has beautiful scenery and many cultural assets, difficulty in arranging train trips often makes tourists less willing to visit.

Similarly, the cost of transporting farm products to market is higher for Taitung than for other counties and municipalities, making it difficult to stay competitive.

With these restraints, how can the county’s economy take off? Politicians from both the pan-blue and pan-green camps have said that they would look after their Taitung compatriots, but it seems to have been all talk and no action.

Poor transport infrastructure has a negative impact on Taitung’s business growth. Transport bottlenecks make businesses in the county much less competitive than they could be. Only by substantially improving the situation can the gap between Taitung and the cities of western Taiwan be narrowed.

Key projects that need to be completed include the upgrading of the Hualien-Taitung and South-Link railway lines from single to double tracks, widening the South-Link Highway to four lanes, building the planned Hualien-Taitung expressway and joining up the disconnected segments of Provincial Highway 26.

Only then can the county be brought closer to cities west of the Central Mountain Range, and only then can its tourism and agriculture grow faster.

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