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Sun, Oct 10, 1999 - Page 2 News List

Rebuilding needs grassroots efforts

RECONSTRUCTION Various experts believe that strong input and assistance from local residents in quake-stricken areas would greatly benefit the rebuilding of communities and lives

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

While the central government draws up a blueprint to rebuild disaster areas following the 921 earthquake, grassroots involvement -- with an emphasis on a "bottom-up" decision-making process that would conform to diverse local demands -- could make the rebuilding process more feasible, critics said yesterday.

Experts involved in relief efforts in central Taiwan said the central government should limit its intervention in rebuilding quake-stricken areas to restoration of public construction or other similar efforts, adding that more room should be left for local communities to decide for themselves exactly what needs to be done.

Chen Chi-nan (陳其南), a professor at Chiao-tung University and a proponent of a community empowerment scheme since the early 1990s -- while serving as former vice chairman of the Council for Cultural Affairs -- said it was important to encourage people in disaster areas to engage in rebuilding their own homes.

"The central government may come up with ideas to rebuild townships from scratch, as if nobody actually lives there. Such ideas are fostered by both bureaucrats and intellectuals," Chen said.

"But the reality is there are people living in these areas, with their attachments to their homes as well as their properties located there," he said.

"So that's why we decided to communicate with people in local communities, trying to evaluate the whole situation from the bottom-up angle," he added.

"Only by doing so, can we match the demand in disaster areas and the supply needed," he said.

Chen and his team went to Nantou County immediately following the earthquake on Sept. 21, engaging in rescue and relief efforts while also inviting locals to discuss their visions of reconstruction.

Chunghsing Community (長興社區), surrounded by mountains in Nantou County, has a population of about 200 people.

It was perhaps the first local community in a disaster area to set up a community reconstruction committee with an aim to gain more control over the rebuilding process, Chen said.

"They had previously been talking about the need to set up public space that was lacking in the past, such as parking lots. These are problems akin to individuals [residing] there. How can that be envisioned by the central government through a top-down decision making process?" Chen asked.

Economist Chen Po-chih (陳博志), from National Taiwan University, echoed Chen's view. He said the government's rebuilding blueprints should be "practical," taking into account various regional concerns.

"The government should not intervene too much, and it should allow local citizens to take part in planning what to do [in the rebuilding process]," he said.

Moreover, Chen Chi-nan said the scheme was also to help quake victims in disaster areas to stand on their own feet.

Instead of waiting passively for the government to solve their problems, local people can cultivate a sense of empowerment and learn how to take responsibility for the development of their own community, Chen said.

While the media coverage of calamities faced by people in the disaster-stricken areas have diminished over time, Chen said, "the real pain they face is only about to begin. For the past two weeks, many simply sat waiting for another round of huge aftershocks."

"But after one month or so, they may expect to see their dislocated social network to be back to normal, but then they will realize it's merely wishful thinking," Chen added.

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