Experts from around the world met in Taipei yesterday to discuss how rivers could be tamed and man-made infrastructure placed into the natural landscape with minimal environmental impact.
Chang Wen-lian (張文亮), a professor in the bioenvironmental systems engineering department at the National Taiwan University, told the participants at the two-day International Symposium on Ecological Engineering that Taiwan has much to learn from other countries.
"The Japanese first tackled ecological engineering problems in the 1920s, Germany in the '50s and America in the '60s. By contrast, we only started paying attention in Taiwan around 1998," said Chang, who also serves as the head of the school's Ecological Engineering Research Center.
Speakers from Japan, Germany and Austria gave lectures on how they dealt with the environmental challenges in their respective countries with engineering techniques that were more sensitive to the environment.
"If you use the wrong system in the wrong situation, it will be weak," Christian Weber said.
Displaying a slide photo of a collapsed concrete retaining wall in the Alps, Weber explained that a more flexible retaining wall of dry-laid stones with willow cuttings planted in the gaps as "little helpers" would have been both stronger and more environmentally appropriate.
Tourism has had a major impact on Austria's Alps, said Weber, who described ill-planned alpine roads as "long-lasting wounds."
He stressed the importance of getting engineers and ecologists to work together in planning and constructing roads and bridges in delicate environments, adding: "You cannot have tourism without a good environment."
Shun Okubu gave a presentation on the history of erosion and sediment control in Japan, which, like Taiwan, suffers frequent and deadly avalanches.
Through the re-greening of barren mountaintops and restoration of dams, various "Sabo works" have contributed to making Japan safer as well as greener.
Visiting experts also gained much from their trips to Taiwan, according to Volkhard Wetzel, director and professor at Germany's Federal Institute of Hydrology.
He said that coming to Taiwan was a chance for him to learn about extreme climate conditions.
"In 10, 20 or 30 years, we might be seeing in the kind of heavy precipitation you get here in Taiwan in Germany due to global warming," Wetzel said.
In his opening speech to the symposium, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) called for a balance between growth and environmental preservation.
"Like many other advanced countries, we used to be focused on economic growth and ignored the need to preserve our environment." Su said. "Let's not do today what we might regret tomorrow."