According to reports, Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教) on Oct. 13 announced that the council had accepted a public petition to provide national compensation for the dengue fever outbreak.
On Oct. 15, a meeting was convened, during which a participant said that “the compensation for dengue fever outbreak should be a social compensation,” and that “in accordance with distributive justice, there should be a limit to the amount of compensation.”
Another said that “the out-of-control dengue fever outbreak in Tainan is of human origin and it is only fair that the victims should be granted compensation.”
The question of whether dengue fever qualifies for compensation as a natural disaster or as an artificial one depends on the legal basis for compensation, the distribution of the nation’s fiscal resources and whether government officials have acted illegally and irresponsibly. The issues must first be clarified.
First, whether an event is a natural or an artificial disaster should be determined by its cause. Typhoons, earthquakes and other disasters caused by the forces of nature are natural disasters, whereas events caused by people are artificial. One obvious example of an artificial disaster is the explosion and the ensuing fire at the Formosa Fun Coast (八仙海岸) water park in New Taipei City.
It is equally obvious that the cause of dengue fever is not artificial, but natural. As to the effectiveness of preventive measures, that would depend on disaster management after the event takes place and therefore should not be confused with the cause.
Second, the effectiveness of preventive measures is not necessarily the result of government officials being careless. The effectiveness of the Tainan City Government’s preventive measures depends not only on whether the central and local government’s resources are effectively integrated and applied, but also on whether the public is cooperative in maintaining environmental hygiene and protecting themselves from mosquito bites.
Solely using the outcomes of preventive measures to determine whether government officials are doing their jobs is clearly subjective and therefore not a fair judgement.
Third, dengue fever should qualify for natural disaster compensation rather than national compensation.
When the public is suffering, the government should provide assistance. Article 2 of the Public Assistance Act (社會救助法) says that “the public assistance referred to in this act is divided into living support, medical subsidies, and emergency and disaster aid.” According to Article 2, Tainan residents who have suffered from flooding, fire, hail, typhoons, droughts, earthquakes and other disasters should be provided with disaster relief assistance.
However, it is not clear what kind of disasters qualify as “other disasters.”
Even the Disaster Prevention and Rescue Act (災害防救法) introduced by the central government does not give a clear definition. Although a revision to Article 2 was proposed by the Ministry of the Interior in 2011 to include disasters caused by pathogens, animal and plant plagues, radiation and so on, the revision has not been passed to this day. Since there are no clear regulations in current legislation, perhaps the regulations on emergency assistance in the Public Assistance Act can be applied to provide aid.
In the face of ruthless attacks from nature, what should be done is to do all that can be done with humility to alleviate the after-effects, instead of capitalizing on the public’s misery to gain political advantage.
Hsu Hui-feng is a professor of law at the Chinese Culture University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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