Tue, Jul 01, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Chen promotes exercises as way to prevent disaster

PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE Since January 1999, 40 people in Nantou County have died in floods; governments hope that training rescue workers can end that trend

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Carrying out exercises to practice rescuing residents in landslide-prone areas can help safeguard people's lives and property against the dangers of natural disasters during typhoon season, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday.

Chen stressed that establishing sound regulations to manage water and soil conservation in mountainous areas would be one of the focuses of the government.

Many places in Nantou County have become landslide-prone since the 921 earthquake almost four years ago. The devastating 7.3 earthquake and subsequent after-shocks disturbed the rock and soil in the region.

Since then, the mountainous county has been prone to mudflows and landslides triggered by torrential rains.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Toraji in 2001, the government was deluged with criticism for its failure to prevent mudslides and floods.

According to the local fire bureau, flooding caused by rains still poses a serious threat. Statistics show that between January 1999 and May this year, 40 people in Nantou County have died in floods.

Before the arrival of typhoon season, an exercise to evacuate residents living in landslide-prone areas was held yesterday in Chungliao township. It was sponsored jointly by the Nantou County government and the Council of Agriculture.

Along Maoluo River (貓羅溪), hundreds of firefighters, police officers and rescue workers demonstrated their ability to retrieve cars washed away by rising river waters and rescue people trapped on flooded sand bars.

Officials from the the council's Soil and Water Conservation Bureau said that the purpose of conducting the exercises was to have related staff become familiar with actual rescue work.

The president expressed his satisfaction after witnessing the exercises.

Chen said that excessive exploitation of mountain-area resources in the last few decades has resulted in the reduction of forests and the loss of soil -- and that has resulted in threat to peoples lives and property from flooding.

Chen said that the forested areas in Taiwan continued to shrink, even though NT$7 billion had been spent on special afforestation projects.

"We know the reasons for the scenario," Chen said. "Both the central government and local authorities need to work together to strengthen inspection to prevent the abuse of land in mountain areas."

Chen said the failure to conserve soil and water would lead to unmitigated disasters.

In addition to afforestation projects, the government would spend more money and manpower to promote ecological engineering in order to solve existing problems pertaining to environmental deterioration caused by inappropriate management of soil and water, Chen said.

Being a densely populated land, experts say that Taiwan has been cavalier about the threat of mudslides. In fact, the government did not begin to conduct surveys of dangerous rivers until the early 1990s, when the increasing frequency of tragedies resulting from mudslides forced the government to take action.

Still, it was not until 1996 that the government began to identify specific areas threatened by potential mudflows and landslides.

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