Whenever the nation is hit by heavy rain, there are many reports about disaster striking different areas. As extreme weather is becoming routine, and earthquakes, heavy rain and droughts are becoming more intense and frequent, construction of infrastructure to deal with the effects of climate change must no longer be delayed.
A lot of people have cast doubts on the water infrastructure part of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, describing it as not being “very forward-looking.”
The Water Resources Agency has set four principles relating to this part of the program:
First, faced with the threat of climate change, flooding and water shortages pose the greatest risk and has therefore been listed as a priority.
Second, Taiwan has joined the ranks of aging societies and disaster prevention facilities must be updated.
Third, responding to changes in industrial structure requires an increased focus on initiating water recycling programs.
Fourth, the most modern technology is needed to upgrade water conservation facilities.
Given the flooding caused by heavy rains last weekend, whether the proposed water projects are forward-looking is not the problem. Anything that can lower the effects of disasters should be initiated as soon as possible. The public does not care whether projects are forward-looking or not. What they care about is whether the infrastructure can help them live in a secure, healthy and sustainable environment.
The nation should not forget the casualties and the lessons learned from the 921 Earthquake, typhoons Nari and Morakot, the gas pipe explosion in Kaohsiung and the collapse of the Weiguan Jinlong complex in Tainan.
Natural disasters will continue to be expected and unpredictable, making policies to minimize their effects crucial.
For example, former minister of the interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) has said that the last time there was a major earthquake in Taipei was during the third year of the Kangxi Emperor’s (康熙) reign in 1694. This means it has been more than 300 years since Taipei experienced a major earthquake. There are more than 30,000 buildings in the city that are 50 years or older, five major areas potentially prone to liquefaction and 1 million people living in those areas; an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 or more would cause 4,000 buildings to collapse.
The drive to promote urban renewal focused on disaster prevention is not effective, and the renewal of old buildings is not progressing. The huge risk is worrying, to say the least.
However, the danger does not only come from aging buildings in urban areas. Facilities that affect the public should also be subjected to security inspections and maintenance. The government must take the initiative to push for a civil engineering act that incorporates management and maintenance mechanisms to ensure that safety inspections of roads, bridges, hillside retaining walls, public piping and sewage systems are being carried out.
The government must also respond to the challenge posed by climate change and move to improve infrastructure in areas prone to flooding, water drainage and river dredging, flood prevention projects and infrastructure in water-sensitive cities.
The government needs to move quickly to address the possibility that the public might be left with the misconception that the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program is saddling future generations with debt, and make sure that the program looks backward as well as forward to ensure that what it leaves to future generations are useful and valuable assets.
Chuang Chun-wei is a civil engineer and executive director of the Taiwan Professional Civil Engineers’ Association.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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