Friday, August 28, 2009

Evacuations: Tuvalu vs. Taiwan

Evacuations: Tuvalu vs. Taiwan
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 28, 2009

Typhoon Morakot brought untold disaster to Taiwan. Yesterday, Tuvalu, a diplomatic ally in the South Pacific, resolved to donate one percent of its gross domestic product, about 20 million US (6.9 million NT) to Taiwan for disaster relief. This was the largest donation Tuvalu has ever made to another country. The public on Taiwan deeply appreciated this warm gesture from an allied nation. But few people realize that Tuvalu's plight is not much better than Taiwan's.

Global warming has brought Taiwan abnormal weather and tropical rainstorms. But it has brought Tuvalu a crisis of survival. This tiny nation in the South Pacific has a population of only 12,000 people, and an area of only 26 square kilometers. In recent years, many low-lying areas have been inundated by the sea, Experts predict that Tuvalu may become the first nation on earth to disappear beneath the waves.

The sea-level is rising much too fast. As the coconut palms along the shore topple one by one, tourists no longer dare to come. The residents of Tuvalu have become "climate refugees." The Tuvalu Government has announced an evacuation plan. Each year it is allowing a fixed number of its citizens to emigrate to nearby New Zealand and Fiji. This is not merely the evacuation of a village. It is the evacuation of an entire Island.

Typhoon Morakot brought with it torrential rains not seen in a century. It was an ecological disaster caused by global warming. Taiwan is much larger than Tuvalu. It has a vast Central Mountain Range. But its residents have cut down too much of its forests. They have extracted too much of its groundwater. As a result, a medium typhoon completely altered the face of mountains and rivers in southern Taiwan. Lingbian Township has become "Waterworld." Hsiaoling Village has been buried beneath a mountain of mud. Disaster victims have lost lives and property. Compared to the residents of Tuvalu, it can only be described as worse and not better.

According to experts, the sea level on Taiwan's southwest coast has risen at a rate 1.4 times the global average. If residents continue over-extraction of groundwater, the sea-level will rise by a meter. Nearly half the land in Chiayi and Tainan's coastal areas will be submerged. So many past reports have issued so many warnings. But few take them seriously.

Subsidence on Taiwan's west coast is serious. The residents' long-term extraction of groundwater is a major factor. The 8/8 Flood was most severe in Lingbian Township. Many villages sank to three meters below sea level. Three weeks after the typhoon, the silt has yet to be cleared. Disease is beginning to spread. To expedite the clearing of sludge from underground drainage pipes, the Executive Yuan is considering temporary evacuation. But many villagers say "We will die before we evacuate."

Following the storm, many people have been unable to return home. Many people don't have homes to return to. The disaster victims are suffering. We feel their pain. We don't have the heart to blame the victims for their emotional reactions. But if one calms down and thinks about it, if long-term groundwater pumping continues, the next typhoon that strikes will flood their homes once more. Once more they will have to clean the silt from from their homes. When will the vicious cycle of misery end?

Actually, what the victims need to think about is not temporary evacuation. but industrial upgrading. Only this will stop the excessive extraction of groundwater. If these fundamental issues can not be resolved, the land will subside even faster in the future, by which time they will have no other choice.

To help disaster victims rebuild their homes, the Legislative Yuan recently passed an emergency post-disaster reconstruction bill. But it ruled out the most important element, an environmental impact assessment. This approach provoked solemn protests by many environmental groups. Hasty post-disaster reconstruction will merely sow the seeds of the next disaster.

By the same token, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan and top government officials have stationed themselves in their southern Taiwan reconstruction office. These high officials of the central government met behind closed doors in an air-conditioned room. They invited neither local leaders nor Aboriginal leaders. What difference does it make whether a meeting like this is held in Taipei or the south? It cannot possibly respond to the needs of the victims. It cannot possibly honor the special lifestyles and cultural traditions of the Aboriginal population.

In the aftermath of the storm, reconstruction is a must for both the ruling and opposition parties. But if one looks farther ahead, nature's backlash was so powerful, it provided us with some valuable insights. Can we continue to wantonly destroy the beauty of our mountains, forests, and lands just to develop our economy? Shouldn't we do more to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse gases?

Tuvalu has recently announced the development of solar and wind power. It intends to reach comprehensive renewable energy targets by 2020. Ten countries, including Sweden, Iceland, and New Zealand, have announced the comprehensive adoption of renewable energy forms and zero carbon emission targets within the coming decade. Tuvalu, as one of global warming's first victims, is making an effort to fight it.

Typhoon Morakot has put the Ma administration to a severe test. But it has also brought with it the impetus for reform. Hopefully, the natural and man-made disasters brought about by Typhoon Morakot will make people do some serious soul-searching about global warming, carbon reduction and energy conservation. Land planning and reconstruction projects require low-carbon, green energy, and environmental sustainability perspectives. Take a look at Tuvalu, and think about Taiwan. The Day After Tomorrow, Taiwan must not become another Tuvalu.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.31
社論-從吐瓦魯撤島 看台灣的撤村爭議






台灣西南沿海地層下陷嚴重,居民長期抽取地下水是重要原因。這次八八水災最嚴重的林邊鄉,許多村落竟然低於海平面三公尺。颱風過後三周了,滿目瘡痍的淤泥還是清不完,疫病已開始蔓延。為了加速清理地下排水幹管的汙泥,行政院考慮暫時撤離鄉民,不過 許多鄉民卻激動地說:「打死不撤」。








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