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Mon, Oct 11, 1999 - Page 2 News List

Local business and tourist sector crucial in rebuilding

HARSH REALITY Although tourism, a major source of income for Taiwan's hard-hit central counties, has been badly affected by the 921 quake, some suggest local residents could find short-term income by taking advantage of 'disaster tourism'

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Driving towards Puli (埔里) on an official visit to Nantou County last week, Taipei City Government official Chiang Chin-chen (江金楨) gazed out of the vehicle's window as it drove by once-beautiful vistas. "The scenic mountains and lakes of Nantou have been destroyed," he said.

"Look at Chiuchiu Mountain in the distance -- it's stripped bare," he added.

The once-scenic peak in Nantou County stood against the blue sky with its bare brown slopes forming an almost-alien landscape in terrain where trees remain green throughout the year.

The quake killed not only thousands of Taiwanese, but destroyed many tourist sites in central Taiwan -- the island's scenic heartland -- further jeopardizing the lives of survivors in areas hit hardest by the quake as they struggle to restore order to their shattered lives, analysts have said.

Economist Chen Po-chih (陳博志) from National Taiwan University said it is crucial to restore private business operations -- especially those related to the livelihoods of local residents in disaster areas -- to cope with the unemployment that many of the survivors are faced with.

"In the past, tourism was a key industry in Nantou County. Although many people have been advised not to go on tourist trips to Nantou Country after the quake, I have a different view," Chen said.

He said sightseeing is still vital to Nantou, albeit voyeuristic in nature, taking into account the dramatic visual changes the quake has brought.

"Special trips could be arranged for people [from outside the disaster areas] to experience [what quake victims have felt], for example, living in a tent. And locals can grasp this opportunity to resume some businesses that ground to halt because of the earthquake by selling things to outsiders," he said.

"It's a way to ensure the livelihood of some people in the disaster areas -- at least in the short run," he said.

Chung Chia-pin (鍾佳濱), confidential secretary to the Pingtung County Commissioner, who has been in Puli to engage in relief work with over 60 civil servants from Pingtung County -- which "adopted" the township following the quake -- offered his own observations.

Chung said while the government offered preferential housing loans for quake victims to purchase new homes, such an offer can only partially mitigate population outflows from disaster areas.

"[The government] must also make sure that profitable sectors in disaster areas can continue to grow, producing job opportunities for locals," he said.

Tseng Chu-wei (曾巨威), professor of public finance at National Chengchi University, said while reasonable distribution of resources is the key to reconstruction, "the government should enhance its capability so as to attend to the demands and considerations of locals to serve as a basis for reconstruction."

Chen said the government should work with local communities to identify sectors that conform to local characteristics, and then offer special assistance to foster these developments.

Chen cited the tourism business as an example. "In the case of Puli, where a group of people have engaged in community renaissance activities [during the past few years], the government and locals may identify this feature of the township and decide to develop the town into a center for artists," he said.

"Then the government should offer incentives to artists island-wide to encourage them to sell their works here," he said.

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