Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Dalai Lama's Visit to Taiwan

On the Dalai Lama's Visit to Taiwan
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 28, 2009

Nothing is as urgent as disaster relief. The premier, representing the central government, is currently staying in Kaohsiung. He is keeping a close watch on 8/8 Flood post-disaster reconstruction. Seven DPP administered counties and municipalities in southern Taiwan have held their own reconstruction conference. Fighting for victims' rights and obtaining resources for reconstruction is a righteous cause. Unfortunately the Democratic Progressive Party's conference on reconstruction has been hijacked by election considerations and political interests. The most important conclusion of the conference was not that the central government must provide aid to disaster victims. It was not that the central government must consider local interests. It was that the Dalai Lama, religious leader of Tibet, must be invited to Taiwan to pray for the victims.

DPP county and municipal government heads know perfectly well the disaster victims' religious beliefs. Most Aboriginal tribes believe in the Christian God. Most disaster victims on the flatlands believe in The Dao. Very few disaster victims believe in Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Seven DPP county executives and city mayors are Presbyterian Church followers. Not one of them is a follower of Tibetan Buddhism. To invite the Dalai Lama to Taiwan at this moment, and claim that no political considerations are involved, is a joke. Are all seven DPP county executives and city mayors planning to convert to Tibetan Buddhism?

At a moment when disaster relief is desperately needed everywhere, the DPP has the chutzpah to turn disaster relief into a political football. President Ma Ying-jeou politely declined the Dalai Lama's visit last year. But today, up to his neck in flood waters, Ma did not hesitate catching the hot potato the DPP tossed him. The Dalai Lama's visit will be spun as humanitarian and religious. But as Chairman of the Legislative Yuan Wang Jin-pyng put it, "To say that the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan will have no cross-Strait repercussions is nonsense. All we can do at a time like this is hope that the Mainland will show some understanding."

Understanding of what? First of all, the Dalai Lama is coming to Taiwan to pray for the disaster victims and the souls of the dead. His trip will help ease the minds of disaster victims. Secondly, the Ma Liu government was tardy in disaster relief. Its domestic approval rating has taken a serious hit. Its international image is in free fall. The DPP invited the Dalai Lama to Taiwan. The Dalai Lama has stated that he wants to come. He even wrote a personal letter to President Ma Ying-jeou. If the government refuses again, it will come across as unreasonable, and undermine its international image.

The issue of Tibet is undeniably one of Beijing's most sensitive. In recent years, wherever the Dalai Lama goes, national leaders meet with him. Beijing will of course issue harsh warnings, then take concrete measures such as trade retaliation, letting up only when the nation in question retreats. If the Dalai Lama visits Taiwan, and Beijing adopts inconsistent standards and attitudes, it will make it impossible for Beijing to continue its strategy of shutting the Dalai Lama out of the international community. But if it retaliates against Taipei the same way it retaliates against other governments, it will undermine the detente that has taken place over the past year and a half, and the rapid progress made in cross-Strait relations following eight lost years. All the goodwill Beijing has show Taipei will come to naught. Beijing took these factors into consideration when it issued its solemn declaration on the Dalai Lama's visit. It reiterated that it is firmly opposed to the Dalai Lama's visit, in any shape or form." Beijing's criticisms however, were directed against the DPP. It said the DPP's motive was "not disaster relief, but an attempt to undermine hard-won improvements in cross-Strait relations." But it said nothing about the Ma administration, whose public approval ratings have hit bottom, and which approved the Dalai Lama's visit.

Cross-strait relations have been in limbo for eight years, ever since Lee Teng-hui left office and Chen Shui-bian took over. Over the past year or so, cross-Strait mutual trust and goodwill have not been easy to come by. Beijing continues to learn from experience. Whereas it once browbeat Taipei, it now speaks in soft tones. Since the 8/8 Flood the mainland has mobilized the entire nation's resources. It has increased aid to Taiwan, both in materiel and money, from both the cities and the countryside. Almost everyone has become involved. During the Wenchuan Earthquake, the public on Taiwan provided incredibly generous aid to Sichuan earthquake victims. The Mainland was enormously grateful for the aid Taiwan provided during the Wenchuan Earthquake. But when the Mainland attempted to return the favor, the reaction from both the government and public on Taiwan was ice cold. We refused to allow Mainland rescue workers to visit the disaster areas. We dragged our feet, refusing to allow Mainland technicians to come to Taiwan to assemble their prefab housing units. No matter how proud the public on Taiwan may be, we have no right to to adopt such an attitude toward those who have extended us a helping hand.

Mainland China showed overwhelming goodwill toward Taipei. In return it got the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan. Beijing's feeling of betrayal is not hard to imagine. The cross-Strait political climate and environment has changed. Ma Ying-jeou's nod to the Dalai Lama was probably an attempt to prevent his already low public approval ratings from plunging even farther. But a nation's progress is not the same as its leader's approval rating. The Ma administration must make a concerted effort to rebuild cross-Strait trust, by both words and deeds.

The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious leader. Since he is coming to Taiwan in the name of humanitarianism, we may as well take him at his word. All activities on Taiwan should be thoroughly de-politicized. This includes political leaders who participate in activities clearly non-religious in nature. This includes the DPP and the Ma Liu government. There is no need whatsoever to make a fuss about whether President Ma Ying-jeou should meet the Dalai Lama. If a prayer session is considered essential to ease the minds of disaster victims, the government has already decided to hold one in September. Every heavyweight Buddhist master on Taiwan will be present. Render unto the Dalai Lama that which is the Dalai Lama's. Unprecedented, hard-won improvements in cross-Strait relations need not and must not be jeopardized merely because the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.28









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」。








Thursday, August 27, 2009

Influenza A: A Medical and Political Battle

Influenza A: A Medical and Political Battle
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 27, 2009

Coverage of the Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 has replaced coverage of the 8/8 Flood. Kuo Hsu-sung, current Director of the Center for Disease Control, estimates that when the epidemic peaks, 7 million people on Taiwan will be infected. Former CDC chief Su Ih-jen estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 people will die. Such information stretches peoples' nerves to the limit, and makes their skin crawl.
At this point the government's responsibility is twofold: First, preventing and treating disease. Second, easing public anxiety. Looking only at the social crisis, the government's primary responsibility is undoubtedly easing public anxiety. Increasing public trust in the government's ability to prevent and treat the disease is essential to easing public anxiety.

From this perspective, convening a National Security Council conference on Influenza A prevention and control, and invoking the National Security Act is not merely an administrative issue. It is also an issue of social psychology. Some say that invoking the National Security Act would increase public anxiety. But others believe the opposite, that failure to convene a National Security Council meeting would increase public anxiety. As we can see, regardless of the pros and cons of invoking the National Security Act, the issue has an impact of social psychology. The presidential office and the cabinet believe "the epidemic has not reached that level." They are in no hurry to invoke the National Security Act. But experts point out that the new school term begins on Monday. By then the epidemic may be at its peak. The number of infected could double every four days. In which case the epidemic could reach "that level" in a matter of days.

We warn the Ma administration: Do not waffle over whether to declare a state of emergency. Public anxiety over epidemics is probably even more intense than public anxiety over earthquakes and floods. An earthquake is over in seconds. The damage caused by floods is visible to the naked eye. But viruses are invisible and odorless. Anyone could be infected. Once it spreads, there is no distinction between victims and non-victims. There is no distinction between disaster areas and non-disaster areas. Everyone feels insecure. Everyone feels troubled. Under such circumstances, would the advance convening of a National Security Council meeting increase public anxiety? Or would the tardy convening of a National Security Council meeting increase public anxiety? The authorities should have no trouble making that call.

From a public communications perspective, an influenza epidemic would test the Ma administration's public communication skills. The goal of the government's public communications campaign must be to ease public anxiety over the epidemic and increase public trust in the government.

The epidemic is spreading, but information remains confused. Will the year-end elections be postponed? Which strategy is better? An "accelerated spread" or an "obstructed and prolonged spread?" Schools are measuring students' ear temperatures. But how about offices, factories, and military bases? When will vaccines be made available? How safe are they? Can patients with liver and kidney ailments be vaccinated? Can they take Tamiflu? When is the right time to administer Tamiflu? What is the right dosage? Do we risk creating drug-resistant strains? How can we raise patient awareness? How should the medical treatment pipeline be configured? Is the supply of ICUs adequate? Should hospitals recommend the wearing of masks, or demand the wearing of masks? Should those who come in contact with high society, such as chauffeurs and store clerks wear surgical masks? These are matters of detail. But they are also matters of public concern. The authorities must show concern. They must communicate to the public in terms they can understand, and do so as soon as possible, They must make information available through a variety of channels. They must ensure that the relevant information is effectively communicated to the public. Experts predict that the epidemic could last as short as six months, or as long as three years. During its public communications campaign, the government must take full advantage of the hardware, software, and content creation capabilities at its disposal. It must not make light of the matter. Only by establishing an information network embodying both quality and quantity, can it ease public anxiety. Only then can health institutions remain focused on disease prevention and treatment. Conversely, if information is confused, if the situation is chaotic, the public will become anxious, and controversy will escalate. The public is already facing the threat of an epidemic. The government must not increase public suffering by increasing fear and confusion.

The prevention and treatment of epidemics is a public health issue. It is a political test as well. The government's responsibility is not limited to fulfilling the needs of health professionals. It must also maintain social stability. Among its most basic responsibilities is to establish a transparent and effective system for the timely dissemination of information.

The government must demonstrate both political and administrative effectiveness. It must help public health professionals. It must not increase public anxiety. It must not add fuel to the fire by making bad decisions. It must not pour salt in the wound by being poor communicators.

2009.08.27 04:00 am









Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Disaster Relief: A Central Mission of the Military

Disaster Relief: A Central Mission of the Military
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 26, 2009

The 8/8 Floods battered southern Taiwan. The reaction of the military was inadequate. On top of which, it made excuses for itself. Although it made a genuine effort to engage in disaster relief following the flood, its image had already been tarnished. If the military wishes to restore public confidence, it must enhance its non-military capabilities. There is simply no alternative. It must begin by rethinking its overall mission, its standards and commands, its disaster drills and training. It must conduct comprehensive redeployment. If the military cannot respond effectively to natural disasters during times of peace, how can the public expect it to defend the nation and protect the people during times of war?
Non-military operations are something the U.S. military has advocated as early as 1993, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The U.S. military believes that with the end of the Cold War, there is only a 50% probability of a large-scale war. The probability of small-scale conventional wars and non-military operations on the other hand, is 100%. Therefore, humanitarian relief, disaster relief, emergency rescue, emergency evacuation, counter-terrorism, anti-smuggling, riot suppression and other non-military operations, are now functions of the armed forces. This is a global trend.

Each year the U.S. military holds tropical storm exercises in the vicinity of Guam, at random intervals. The purpose of these exercises is tropical storm disaster prevention. The U.S. military and its allies the world over have launched many such exercises, too numerous to mention. Among neighboring countries, Japan's Self-Defense Forces Law lists disaster response as an SDF military operation. Two years Indonesia revised its national disaster management agency protocols. The Vice President has been put in charge of disaster management. Rapid reaction disaster relief forces have been set up. In 2005 the mainland authorities announced their "Articles for Armed Forces Disaster Relief Participation." Floods, fires, and other non-military operations have been incorporated into their regular training. All responsible governments see disaster relief and emergency rescue as one of their armed forces' central tasks.

Since the 9/21 Earthquake and the SARS Incident, the Republic of China government has also included disaster response as one of the military's many responsibilities. If the different branches of the military establish public affairs groups, they can maintain links with rural district and county civic affairs bureaus and civic affairs sections in their defense districts. They can hold quarterly corps commander and civil magistrate co-ordination sessions. The different branches of the military can also set up civic affairs districts that overlap with their combat zones. In the event of a disaster, they should be able to switch from peacetime mode to wartime mode, and initiate emergency mobilization.

In terms of organization, the corps of engineers of the different branches of the armed forces should each establish reaction and relief battalions, equipped with Bobcats, excavators, 15 ton dump trucks, assault boats, and other rescue equipment. The chemical warfare groups of each branch of the military also have reconnaissance battalions with some disaster prevention and disaster relief capabilities. Four years ago central and southern Taiwan was hit by the 7/2 Flood. The armed forces Fifth Battle District did not wait for orders. It began disaster relief on its own. Its boldness impressed the public. The question is, if the military could they do it back then, why can't it do so now?

Disaster prevention and relief has been made a responsibility of the armed forces. But in general it is not taken seriously. The military does not understand global trends and public needs. It continues to think of disaster relief and emergency rescue as a sideline. It mistakenly assumes that too much emphasis on it will undermine combat readiness for normal missions. The result is a passive attitude toward natural disasters. The armed forces' active response to the 7/2 Flood was not dictated by the system, but by the personal judgment and personal dedication of the official in charge. It was an isolated case. It was the exception to the rule. This reveals the inadequacies of the existing mechanisms.

According to regulations, ground forces include standing forces, reserve forces, special warfare units, technical support, garrisoned troops, and military police. Naval fleets include individual warships, battle groups, and vessel groups. They also include airmen, air defense and electronic intelligence groups. These are already receiving disaster relief training. But these military units receive no more than 10 hours of training every six months. In terms of organization, the armed forces have some degree of disaster response capability. They may be able to deal with normal disasters. But when they encounter extraordinary floods or typhoons, they have trouble coping.

The armed forces were ineffective at disaster relief. They were criticized heavily because their military spokesmen did nothing. The armed forces were unable to provide timely disaster reports. They were unable to explain the situation to the public. They were criticized from beginning to end. Military "soft power" was non-existent. The morale of the armed forces suffered a serious setback. Some generals are lamenting the plan. They say it may as well be aborted. They consider it more humiliating than being defeated in battle. But how can a military unable to defend its own rights and privileges in times of peace, possible convince people it can defend the people in times of war?

President Ma and the Department of Defense have been skinned alive. Yesterday Ma finally issued a policy statement regarding the duties of the armed forces. He made clear that henceforth disaster prevention and disaster relief will be its "central task." Military strategy, military tactics, force structures, budgets, machinery, and equipment should be part of future disaster prevention and relief efforts. This will facilitate disaster relief, emergency rescue, and other non-military operations.

Talk is cheap. What people want to see is action, swift action. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, unlike wars, happen suddenly. They are difficult to predict. Typhoon season is not over yet. a disaster could strike at any time. If the government and the armed forces disappoint the people again, then a change in administrations is not far off.

中時電子報 新聞
字體顯示:小│中│大 回上頁 │列印
中國時報  2009.08.26



美軍每年不定期在關島附近舉行「風暴」演習,就是因應防災抗颱之用,美軍與友邦國家在全球展開類似的演練更是不勝枚舉。以周邊國家來說,日本在《自衛隊法》明定「災害派遣」為自衛隊的軍事行動之一;印尼二年前修改國家災害管理機構規程,由副總統負責,並成立救災快速反應部隊;對岸亦於二 ○○五年頒布《軍隊參加搶險救災條例》,將抗洪、救火等非戰爭行動任務納入部隊經常性訓練。可以說,任何負責任的政府,都視救災搶險為軍隊的中心任務之一。







口說無憑,人民要看的是行動,而且動作要快。因為災情不像戰爭,如地震、海嘯突發而至,難以預警。颱風季節尚未結束,不能預測的災情隨時可能爆發。如果政府和國軍的表現再令人民失望,換人執政的日子就不遠了。 了。

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Determination, No Growth

No Determination, No Growth
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 25, 2009

Recently a number of economic indicators have jumped. The global economy appears to be emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s. Taiwan's economy is gradually turning the corner along with the global economy. Last Thursday the DGBAS changed its estimate for Taiwan's GDP growth rate for this year to -4.04%. If post-disaster reconstruction proceeds smoothly in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, this estimate may be increased to -3.75%. Nevertheless we find it impossible to share the government's official optimism. The road to reconstruction is long. Tens of thousands of families have lost family members and homes. They have no idea where they will live.
Recently the economic indicators of major countries in Europe and the United States have offered good news. For example, July sales for existing US homes have increased for four months in a row, and established a ten year record. The Eurozone August Purchasing Managers Index unexpectedly rose. When U.S., European, Japanese and other central bank presidents attended the World Bank Annual Meeting last Friday, the World Bank president betrayed a rare smile. Asia's emerging countries grew substantially faster than Europe and the United States during the second quarter, to the amazement of many economists.

Recently the Economist magazine investigated the surprising recovery of the emerging Asian countries. It believes the emerging countries in Asia recovered more rapidly than those in Europe and the United States because of the manufacturing cycle. Asian governments have established generous financial revitalization programs. Their banking systems suffered relatively minor damage. Their private sectors have high rates of saving. The critical question however, is whether the Asian countries' growth rates are sustainable.

The global economy has gradually returned to normal. But Taiwan was hit by heavy rains from Typhoon Morakot, the biggest typhoon in a century. Landslides and mudslides have changed the face of the land. The livelihood of hundreds of thousands of victims remain in doubt. In response to the disaster wrought by Morak, the Executive Yuan recently expedited special provisions for reconstruction. It provided 100 billion NT for post-disaster reconstruction. It estimated that reconstruction would take three years. Yesterday President Ma Ying-jeou personally promised survivors that the reconstruction of Hsiaoling Village would be completed during his term.

Just how badly did Typhoon Morakot damage Taiwan's economy? The DGBAS estimates that the impact of the disaster on the economy was not that great. Massive reconstruction projects will boost demand. They may even increase the economic growth rate. Financial chiefs are also optimistic in their predictions. The impact of the financial tsunami has passed. Taiwan's economy may recover by the fourth quarter.

Typhoon Morakot destroyed southern Taiwan. It is now badly scarred. For the victims, every time a typhoon strikes, both lives and property are threatened. Farmland, orchards, fish ponds were completely destroyed. Families were destroyed. These are burdens too heavy to bear. They are not something cold statistics can show. If post-disaster reconstruction proceeds rapidly, as President Ma hopes, that may also increase economic growth. That would of course be ideal. But disaster victims have many misgivings. They wonder how an incompetent ruling administration can possibly complete the work of reconstruction in a timely manner.

Indeed, the impact on the tourism industry in the south is more serious than outsiders can imagine. Tens of thousands of victims lost their livelihoods. Revenue from tourism has evaporated. Take one of the most important tourist attractions for example, Mount Alishan. No one has any idea when the minitrain will be reopened to traffic. The tourist attractions in the Paolai Hot Springs District in Kaohsiung have also been buried under earth and rock. These cannot be repaired any time soon. Mother Nature has lashed back with a vengeance. Future relocation and reconstruction will require new building sites and environmental impact assessments. These are not tasks that can be rushed.

Everyone knows that the key to success when it comes to reconstruction is determination. Past experiences have been disappointing. Ten years ago, during post-disaster reconstruction following the 9/21 Earthquake, many hill-tribe village relocation projects were delayed six to seven years. Victims were forced to live in pre-fab temporary housing. They endured countless typhoons and landslides. Some tribes relocated to new sites faced new landslide threats. The Ma administration estimates that reconstruction work will be completed within three years. But without a strong administrative team coordinating central and local government resources, no one really knows when it will be finished.

The Ma administration's ineptitude during initial disaster relief efforts has already disappointed the public. If reconstruction is carried out by the same bunch of insensitive bureaucrats oblivous to the people's suffering, the public will find it hard to be optimistic.

Asia's Four Tigers are in a race to recover from the global financial tsunami. The DGBAS has revised Taiwan's economic growth rate. But Taiwan's economic performance this year still lags behind South Korea's and Hong Kong's. It is only slightly better than Singapore's. Faced with fierce international competition and constant domestic disasters, we find it hard to be overly optimistic.

Typhoon Morakot has sent the Ma administration approval ratings into freefall. President Ma must summon up his revolutionary drive. He must demonstrate administrative competence. Only then can he restore public confidence. As long as the ruling administration remains incompetent and knows only how to apologize, no amount of reconstruction funds will raise Taiwan's economic growth rates.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.25
沒有執行力 那有成長率












Monday, August 24, 2009

Post-Disaster Reconstruction Must Not be Rushed

Post-Disaster Reconstruction Must Not be Rushed
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 24, 2009

Typhoon Morakot battered the mountain and coastal regions of Pingtung, Taitung, Chiayi, and Nantou. The number of dead and injured have probably exceeded one thousand. Disaster relief has reached a stopping point. Post-disaster reconstruction will soon begin. The geological structure of the mountain ranges and climate have undergone unpredictable macro-level changes. How does one create human habitat that does not compete with the mountains and streams, that coexists with nature? That is the highest priority in post-disaster reconstruction.
The hardest-hit were the mountain regions, from Nantzhuhsien Creek up towards Hsiaoling Village, from Laonong Creek towards Paolai Village. The affected areas were mostly river terraces. These are mesa areas that have long been subject to erosion by by earth and rock. During heavy rains, these may cause landslides. Following Typhoon Morakot, these areas have become new river terraces. They constitute a new geographical environment. If a new settlement is built there, will the Hsiaoling Village tragedy reenact itself? This is the first post-disaster reconstruction issue we wish to pursue.

Statistics over the past decade reveal that the Kaoping Creek has accumulated up to 50 million tons of earth and rock per year. The Peinan Creek has accumulated 80 million tons. The earth and rock originates in the middle and upper reaches, and is related to the geological environment. Chiahsien Township, Hsiaoling Village, and Paolai Village form a triangle. Concealed beneath this triangle is a unique geological environment. To the west of Paolai Village lies a fault line. What we normally perceive as vertical cliffs and beautiful scenery, actually indicate steep inclines. It is like this from all the way from Nanzhuhsien to Laonong. The region has several unique features. One. The geological structure is highly fragmented. Two. Fault lines are everywhere. Three. The surrounding environment is fragile. Given such a fragile environment, how can one allow reconstruction in the same location?

Since Typhoon Herb struck several decades ago, we have repeatedly raised the issue of land use and land planning. But once the disaster passes, everyone goes on with business as usual. Monitoring of the relevant national lands are also shelved. Government agencies have failed to provide sound geographical data. They have failed to paint a clear picture of the surrounding environmentally sensitive regions. Land use and land planning policies clash with nature. The result is an endless succession of disasters. Therefore the promotion and implementation of national land planning must not involve mere lip service. If they do, such tragedies will repeat endlessly.

In the past, every time disaster struck, people would suggest that man cannot defy nature, and that the mountain regions cannot sustain human habitation. They should be returned to a state of nature. Farmlands should be restored to forests. Floodplain restoration also becomes a hot issue, especially when talk turns to disaster prevention. One immediately thinks of the resettlement of villager. But every time, after a month or two has passed, talk of resettling villagers is forgotten, and the issue left hanging. Aboriginal life and culture is incompatible with urban or rural living. Even if one forcibly relocates the villagers, they eventually return to the mountains. When the next storm arrives, they become environmental refugees yet again.

Since relocating the villagers is infeasible, the only thing to do is consider relocating the villages themselves. Therefore the most urgent task should be to mobilize the nation's experts in geology, water resources management, water conservation, environmental engineering, and forestry. They should survey the affected areas and conduct large-scale soil tests. They should be made charged with finding comparatively safe sites within the vicinity of the disaster areas to relocate the villages. When such rehabilitated lands have been found, the relevant government entities and local communities can conduct talks, instructing the inhabitants not to blindly develop the land but instead engage in disaster prevention and disaster mitigation. They must use private and government resources, and as quickly as possible begin disaster region planning and reconstruction.

In the meantime, the government should establish the necessary disaster warning systems. Once they receive information of impending rainstorms, they can analyze the data and understand flood and mudslide flow. Once the alert has been sounded, disaster prevention and evacuation should begin as soon as possible to minimize disaster damage.

After each disaster, under pressure from the victims and the public, the government is forced to immediately appropriate funds for rehabilitation. Any government entities that fail to spend the funds allocated to them end up earning demerits. This leads to construction projects without adequate planning. The end result is slapdash construction, or even a repetition of the same mistakes as before. As a result, disaster prevention projects can never be sustained long term.

Therefore, rehabilitation projects must be planned in advance. Apart from any necessary emergency measures, do not rush redevelopment. At least show some respect for professionalism. First carry out careful planning. Then communicate and coordinate with the public. Reach a broad consensus. Combine the resources of the government and civil society. Only then can one be prepared for unpredictable environmental disasters.

Given radical changes in the climate and annual rainfall, traditional engineering methods can no longer prevent disasters. Under constant counterattacks from nature, human errors are impossible to hide. The result is the loss of countless lives and inestimable property. Learning ones' lessons is the best way to prevent future disasters, Hopefully current reconstruction efforts are not merely fleeting enthusiasms.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.24
社論-災後復建 真的不能再急就章











Friday, August 21, 2009

Rewrite the 2010 Budget!

Rewrite the 2010 Budget!
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 21, 2009

In response to the 8/8 Flood, the Executive Yuan has authorized a multi-billion-dollar special budget for disaster relief and reconstruction. But this is far from adequate. The government must devote itself entirely to disaster relief and reconstruction, At the same time it must avoid wasting resources and funds. The government should rewrite the entire 2010 Budget. Only then can it focus on post-disaster reconstruction and avoid waste.
On July 30 the Executive Yuan held a "2010 Audit Plan and Budget Meeting." It confirmed the numbers for the 2010 central government budget. Net revenues will be 1.5513 trillion NT. Net expenditures will be 1.7404 trillion NT. Once the budget was passed by the Executive Yuan Council in late August, it was to be sent to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation. But the 8/8 Flood struck. The Executive Yuan set the special budget for the 8/8 Flood at 1.1 trillion NT. But in the face of rising damage estimates and human casualty numbers, the Executive Yuan admitted that the budget is "likely to grow." As a result, borrowing next year is expected to reach 460 billion NT. Add to this the multi-billion dollar special budget for the 8/8 Flood, and the debt may exceed 500 billion NT, establishing a record high for borrowing in a single year.

In response to the needs of the state and society, the government must borrow money. We understand the need for a budget deficit. For example, many people are arguing over the government's budget for the coming year. They are asking whether the budget shouldn't be balanced, and whether the government shouldn't reduce its economic supports and injections of capital. We believe that the economic recovery is still in its early stages, and for the government to withdraw its financial support would be premature. Otherwise the economy could flame-out again, negatively affecting government revenues. Therefore, at this stage, a budget deficit is acceptable.

But following the 8/8 Flood, we feel the entire budget should be reviewed and rewritten. We must not focus entirely on the problem of higher deficits. We must focus on the policies the government is promoting. Next year the government must promote post-disaster reconstruction. Should that be considered the focus of government policy? Global climate anomalies may make seasonal rains more frequent, even "normal." Should the government's disaster prevention and disaster relief system undergo a comprehensive update and strengthening? The answer is clearly yes. If so, which departments have responsibilites relating to 8/8 Flood reconstruction? The answer is, almost every department.

The Fire Services Department under the Ministry of the Interior and the Construction and Planning Administration have responsibilities directly related to disaster prevention and reconstruction. The Ministry of the Interior bears the greatest responsibility for post-disaster reconstruction. The Ministry of Communications is responsible for restoring breakdowns in the transportation system. The Ministry of Economic Affairs Water Resources Agency is the main entity responsible for water resources. It should also shoulder responsibility for the reconstruction of industries within the disaster areas. The Council of Labor Affairs should lend a helping hand to disaster victims who have lost their jobs and their source of livelihood. Others, such as the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education must assume responsibility for damage suffered by farmers and children unable to attend school. The Financial Supervisory Commission and the Central Bank may appear to have little to do with the disaster. But disaster victims' homes have been destroyed. What will they do? To allow disaster victims to recover, they must be given financial assistance. How will all this be planned? These are responsibilities that must be assumed by finance related entities.

The disaster areas require huge sums for reconstruction. Disaster victims require government and social assistance to return to normal life. Many relatively unimportant items included in the budget before the flood occurred can be eliminated. These include improvements to sidewalks, parks, and decorative walls. Many activities may be inspections and conferences in name, but junkets in fact. Many celebrations, floral expenses, and self-promotion campaigns can be reduced or eliminated altogether.

While fulfilling their duties, various departments exert different amounts of energy. Budget allocations should reflect these differentials. Otherwise, scattering one's energies will make them difficult to focus. The transportation system suffered the most serious damage. The focus of the original budget may have been on new transportation projects. But following the 8/8 Floods, the number of reconstruction projects must be increased. If they are all lumped together, in total disregard of which as higher priority, none of them will be executed properly. The energy the bureaucracy has is limited. The energy domestic forces of production have is also limited. Therefore authorities should assess their own capacity to administer programs, and the capacity of the domestic productive sector. They must make substantial changes to their original plans for next year. Reconstruction of the disaster areas must be the first priority. Can the budget really not be rewritten?

The Executive Yuan has yet to make changes in the 2010 Budget. Resorting to a special budget to meet the needs of the 8/8 Flood is understandable. It is the most expedient way. But it is unacceptable. It is the lazy man's way. It will lead to confusion about what most needs to be done. It will make it difficult to focus on post-disaster reconstruction. It will lead to greater waste and increase the budget deficit unnecessarily. It is now August. The budget has yet to be sent to the Legislative Yuan. If the government is sincere, it still has time to make massive changes to its budget.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.21









Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ma Administration Needs Creative Destruction

The Ma Administration Needs Creative Destruction
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 19, 2009

A moderate typhoon, a heavy rain, and a flood not seen in half a century, have mercilessly exposed the shortcomings of the Ma Liu government. President Ma lacked decisiveness. He lacked a sense of direction. He hid behind the letter of the law. His public pronouncements lacked empathy. These shortcomings may be minor. If we had a premier who understood and sympathized with the people, who was sensitive and prudent, he might have been able to make up for the shortcomings of the government. Unfortunately although the premier is said to be smart and capable, he is out of touch with ordinary people. He may even harbor a superiority complex. In the wake of a natural disaster, people desperately need consoling. Such a political style can easily lead to a huge gulf between the government and the people.
Premier Liu Chao-hsuan is not without disaster relief experience. During the 9/21 Earthquake of 1999, then Deputy Premier Liu was a front-line commander. But Lee Teng-hui was in command. He assumed total control of such activities as resource allocation, administrative coordination, and consoling the victims. At the time the party, the government, and the military were one and the same. Critics had little to say about relief efforts. But ten years have passed. The political situation has changed. Premier Liu Chao-hsuan must stand on the front lines of the 8/8 Flood and face the disaster victims. He must cope with all sorts of challenges, from all different directions. He must attempt to make up for President Ma's verbal gaffes and other shortcomings. None of these are challenges an authoritarian era official is qualified to handle. The work of consoling the public on the front lines is not something a "feel good" leader is cut out for.

People say President Ma Ying-jeou has surrounded himself with people who are just like him. Take Ma and Liu. The reason they are so similar is that "when the tune is too highbrow, few join the chorus." President Ma has a JD from Harvard University. He is handsome and fluent in English. Premier Liu was a prodigy. He was a university president by the age of 40. He led a charmed life. Because both are highly educated, they have long looked askance at those around them. Over time they lost their empathy for others.

Each country experiences disasters, large or small. In the aftermath of disasters, the guiding principle for political leaders, is to remain humble and self-effacing. Remain close to the people. Always say you never did enough. Always vow to do more for the victims. During the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani slept only two or three hours a day, for weeks on end. Who would have either the time or state of mind to plop down in a barber's chair to get one's hair trimmed or dyed? Many members of the New York City Police Department and Fire Department of New York died. The atmosphere in New York was one of solidarity. The city became one giant family. No one distinquished between relief workers and disaster victims. Giuliani worked day and night solving problems. He was happy to do it, eager to do it. He did not feel put upon while doing it. He could never have perceived himself as a punching bag. Six months later, Giuliani's efforts were honored by the American people and citizens of New York City. His political record may have been mediocre. His private life may have been a mess. But because of 9/11, he went down in history as one of New York City's finest mayors. As we can see, natural disasters are not always political disasters. It all depends upon how one deals with them.

President Ma was elected by the public. He has been in office a mere 15 months. We would be rash to jump to premature conclusions. But based on his press conference yesterday, his September cabinet reshuffling is essential. In the eyes of disaster victims and the public, his current cabinet has zero credibility. Its members have only to appear on a podium, to face hisses and disdain. Forget disaster relief and reconstruction. Forget the multitude of other national construction tasks. A cabinet unable to command the trust and respect of the public, must be reshuffled and replaced. Otherwise the machinery of government will grind to a halt. The consequences will be serious. It is no laughing matter.

Some people have compared a cabinet reshuffle to "Saving Private Ma." But we are not willing to critique the matter from such a negative angle. We prefer to examine the matter from a more positive standpoint. Ma and Liu are too much alike. They are unable to complement each other. They provoke anger among ordinary people. They have difficulty identifying or communicating with ordinary people. Given such internal and external pressures, the cabinet must undergo reshuffling for the sake of the nation's future. Over the past year, countless complaints have been lodged against the various ministries of the Executive Yuan. Large scale adjustments in the wake of the flood are an appropriate response to popular discontent.

Replacing the cabinet involves social costs. But without sufficient Creative Destruction of the cabinet, national reconstruction will be difficult. From this perspective, reshuffling the cabinet is merely a form of Creative Destruction. It is a benefit to the nation. It must be done. President Ma has set a September timetable. We look forward to its smooth completion. Only then can the administration avoid leaving behind a bad memory.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.08.20








Disaster Areas Aren't All That Need Rebuilding

Disaster Areas Aren't All That Need Rebuilding
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 19, 2009

Yesterday President Ma Ying-jeou called two press conferences. He tried to repair the major damage to his image in the domestic and foreign media over the past ten days. He apologized for his administration's negligence during the disaster relief period. He vowed to do a better job with resettlement and reconstruction.
Future attention will be focused on post-disaster reconstruction. But frankly disaster areas aren't all that need rebuilding. At least three things need urgent rebuilding.

The first thing that needs rebuilding is public confidence in the government. President Ma made a series of verbal gaffes, including, "Well you've gotten to meet me haven't you?", "What do you expect me to do?", "They weren't prepared" "They should have evacuated the area a long ago." Premier Liu accused the media of "amateurism." Official disaster relief efforts were far inferior to those of non-governmental organizations. Foreign relief materiel was shipped to the disaster areas, then back to the warehouse. Executive Yuan Secretary General Steve Hsieh argued, "Is having a meal on Father's Day so wrong?" These incidents severely undermined public confidence in the central government's disaster relief and post-disaster reconstruction efforts. Now, when officials show up at disaster areas to take command of relief, they are heckled and denounced. They have essentially become punching bags. Their ability to coordinate relief efforts has been seriously hampered. If this crisis of confidence can not be reversed, reconstruction efforts will be adversely affected. The government will experience headaches, but the disaster victims will experience even worse pain.

The second thing that needs rebuilding of course, is the cabinet. President Ma's verbal gaffes and poor management skills, may have made people unhappy. But the real responsibility for delays in disaster relief and reduced efficiency must be laid at the door of the Executive Yuan. The president long ago pointed the finger at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications Weather Bureau. Ironically the disaster relief official who alienated the press corps during domestic and foreign press conferences was none other than the Minister of Transportion. Other governmental ministries widely criticized include the Ministry of Economic Affairs Water Resources Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which refused foreign assistance, the Engineering Council, whose internal squabbles were filmed live by the media, and the Department of Defense, whose mobilization of troops was tardy and response inflexible. Hsiaoling Village and other areas have been devastated. The cabinet and ministries responsible for disaster relief have demonstrated how muddle-headed they are. The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Justice have little relevance to disaster relief. But which of the remaining six ministries has demonstrated even one iota of administrative efficiency? These ministries' inefficiency and these high-ranking officials' verbal gaffes were mutually reinforcing. The result is the current mess. Now the public is anxiously awaiting the pre-September personnel changes President Ma Ying-jeou promised during his press conference yesterday.

The third thing that needs rebuilding is the government's finances. According the government's preliminary budget estimates, post-disaster reconstruction will cost 110 billion NT. Unfortunately last year's Ministry of Finance tax cuts drastically increased the deficit. This year's tax revenues will experience a shortfall of hundreds of billions of dollars. It has nearly reached the statutory borrowing limit. The Ministry of Finance has in effect, caused a "financial landslide." The Ministry of Education dared not object to Premier Liu Chao-hsuan's impromptu changes to the school lunch program. It reduced the annual allocation from 17 billion to 2 billion. This amounted to another sort of landslide, the disastrous consequence of impromptu policy changes displacing normal national policy. The Ministry of Economic Affairs knew full well it was incapable of providing developmental aid to our semiconductor industry. But in order to save face, it stubbornly demanded a TMC subsidy. Out of the blue, it provided another 30 billion to a private corporation without going through the normal evaluation process. It created an industrial policy landslide. Such random expenditures effectively clogged up the nation's finance system. The result was insufficient financing for urgently needed reconstruction. Even if we resort to a special budget to avoid violating the Budget Law and the Public Debt Law, the after-effects will be serious.

Obviously more than the disaster areas need rebuilding. So do public morale, the composition of the cabinet, and the financial structure. If these cannot be corrected, post-disaster reconstruction will be difficult. The Ma administration that we all know so well will not have an easy time with these reconstruction tasks. Seven years ago, during the SARS crisis, Ma's Taipei City Government was also in chaos. But the nation is not a city. The impact of the 8/8 Flood far exceeds the impact of an outbreak of SARS at the Heping Hospital. If President Ma fails to take decisive action, he will not merely delay relief efforts, he will seriously undercut his own public support. His approval ratings will reach new lows.

The Ma Liu team has been in office for only 15 months. Once upon a time, the media described the Ma administration and the Liu cabinet as a "feel good" government. That the ruling administration finds itself in its current plight, is a far more serious disaster than the 8/8 Flood.

2009.08.19 02:37 am








Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Assistance from Washington and Beijing is Humanitarian Assistance

Assistance from Washington and Beijing is Humanitarian Assistance
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 18, 2009

The day before yesterday, at 14:45, a camouflaged United States military C-130 transport plane flew from Okinawa and landed at Tainan Air Force Base, carrying disaster relief materiel for the 8/8 Flood. This was the first time a United States military aircraft has landed on Taiwan since Taipei and Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1979.
High-ranking ROC officials set the tone, saying that "Humanitarian assistance transcends politics." Yang Yi, spokesman for Beijing's State Council for Taiwan Affairs said, "This is humanitarian assistance made available to Taiwan by the government through private channels." And so it was with the U.S. warships carrying rescue helicopters that arrived on Taiwan yesterday.

The bottom line is, this is a humanitarian issue. The United States government's decision to send equipment may have been a political and administrative decision. But fundamentally it was humanitarian in nature. By the same token, Yang Yi, spokesman for Beijing's State Council for Taiwan Affairs, may need to take into account political factors. But in the end it is still humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarianism trumps politics. One might even say that the evolution of human civilization in the twenty-first century means that the raison d'etre of politics is humanitarian. Politics that turns its back on humanitarianism, whether cross-Straits or international, amounts to reactionary thinking on the wrong side of history.

Some self-proclaimed "military experts" in the legislature have cited this development, and implied that in the event of a man-made disaster such as war, the U.S. Cavalry would also come riding to the rescue. They merely reveal their superficiality. At moments like this, no one has the right to make political hay from solemn humanitarian issues. Whoever exploits such an occasion to sully humanitarism with politics, who uses humanitarism as a political tool, merely reveals his own ignorance and myopia.

As time passes, and history unfolds, mankind and human consciousness have demonstrated the capacity to evolve to more advanced levels. Think back ten years, to the 9/21 Earthquake. The Beijing authorities, speaking through Sun Aiming, Secretary-General of Mainland China's Red Cross, said that any nation wishing to provide Taiwan earthquake relief, would be required to obtain prior consent from Mainland China's Red Cross. On 9/22 Russia sent AN-124 transport planes to Taiwan to conduct large-scale rescue operations. Beijing forbade Russian planes from transitting through Mainland China's airspace, Rescue operations were delayed 12 hours while Moscow negotiated with Beijing. When we recall this scenario a decade later, we can't help thinking, "How cruel. how obtuse."

Therefore when Yang Yi characterized Mainland China's facilitation of the U.S. government's disaster relief effort as humanitarian aid, it was a sign of major progress. As we can see, humanitarian values are the highest political values. Political values hostile to humanitarian values don't stand a chance. Compare Sun Aiming's statement ten years ago, with Yang Yi's statement ten years later. Who was right and who was wrong? Who was being wise, and who was being obtuse? No comment is needed, and the answers are self-evident.

During last year's Sichuan Earthquake, the ruling and opposition parties launched elevated and earnest disaster relief operations. Even today, volunteer groups from Taiwan are busy at work in Sichuan disaster areas. Last year, a UDN News editorial asked KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung to convey a message to CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao: "The two sides may not be able to avoid earthquakes and other natural disasters, but they can work together to avoid war." Chairman Wu carried this message to the Mainland, and the Mainland public expressed support for this way of thinking. The Taiwan public's grass-roots response to the Sichuan Earthquake was humanitarian in nature. It had a major influence on the thinking of authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Ten years ago, the Mainland government donated three million USD to 9/21 Earthquake relief, through the Mainland China Red Cross. Ten years later, Mainland-based private citizens and quasi-governmental organizations donated funds in their own name. The amount of materiel donated greatly increased, and include modular housing units. As we can see, the attitude and conduct of the Mainland has changed significantly for the better.

As we see it, we ought to be as accepting as possible to assistance from the Mainland. We should even allow Mainland volunteers and charitable organizations to visit the disaster areas. Even if alternative resources are available, and Mainland assistance is not indispensable, we should promote cross-Strait humanitarian exchanges. We should encourage the volunteers from Taiwan engaged in earthquake relief in Sichuan. We should welcome Mainland volunteers to disaster areas on Taiwan. We should allow humanitarian exchanges to soften and improve cross-Strait political relations. If the two sides can assist each other during earthquakes and typhoons, humanitarian sentiments may reduce the likelihood that both sides will slaughter each other with missiles and artillery. After all, mutual support is surefly preferable to mutual destruction.

If we think in these terms, we may even consider allowing the shipment of Mi-26 helicopters from the Mainland. The only real obstacle would the public's inability to take such a leap at this moment in time.

As noted above, the highest political values are humanitarian values. Neither cross-Strait nor international politics may take precedence over humanitarianism. In cross-Strait relations, the micro-climate formed during earthquake and flood relief operations is humanitarian in nature. The macro-climate formed by humanism and other transcendant values is also humanitarian in nature. Humanitarian cross-Strait exchanges during earthquake and typhoon relief efforts may have far-reaching implications for the "peaceful development" of cross-Strait relations.

2009.08.18 03:54 am













Monday, August 17, 2009

Collapsed Bridges: When Will They Be Restored?

Collapsed Bridges: When Will They Be Restored?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 17, 2009

Summary: Typhoon Morakot brought with it a record-breaking 3000 mm of rainfall. But even more astonishing was the number of collapsed bridges. Fourteen provincial highway bridges collapsed. Add to that county and township bridges, railway bridges and yet to be confirmed local bridges, and the total number of collapsed bridges rises to over 70. This exceeds the previous record for collapsed bridges during a single typhoon by a factor of ten. If in the face of "extreme weather" one fails to fundamentally rethink bridge design, then this embarrassing record for collapsed bridges could well reach new highs.

Full Text below:

Typhoon Morakot brought with it a record-breaking 3000 mm of rainfall. But even more astonishing was the number of collapsed bridges. Fourteen provincial highway bridges collapsed. Add to that county and township bridges, railway bridges and yet to be confirmed local bridges, and the total number of collapsed bridges rises to over 70. This exceeds the previous record for collapsed bridges during a single typhoon by a factor of ten. If in the face of "extreme weather" one fails to fundamentally rethink bridge design, then this embarrassing record for collapsed bridges could well reach new highs.

"Bridges are the interface between man-made structures and rivers." This is Bridge Building 101. Bridge design must combine knowledge from civil engineering, structural engineering, hydrology, soil engineering, geology, and other disciplines. Only then can one ensure safety while aiding transportation. Bridge Building 101 may be clear and understandable. Yet it is sorely lacking on Taiwan. That is the reason for the high incidence of collapsed bridges.

Bridge design has long neglected hydrology. The most bridge builders are willing to do is to consult hydrological data during the design phase, when bridge designers calculate pier sizes, horizontal spans, and the depth and strength of the pile foundations, They design and built bridges to last an average of 50 years. Once the bridge is completed, hydrology and water management issues are ignored. The only factor considered is the water level under the bridge. The hydrology upstream and downstream of the bridge may have long changed. The chance to fix mistakes is squandered. Only when the pile footings are exposed, and the danger is obvious, do they realize they should have considered hydrology. By then of course it is too late.

Everyone knows that rivers and flowing waters constantly change in response to natural and man-made variables. Taiwan's rivers are short and steep. They transport huge volumes of sand, and are highly erosive. Human activities such as water and soil conservation measures and sand mining continuously impact hydrology and water management. They raise riverbeds in the upper reaches. They deepen riverbeds in the lower reaches. Major rivers undergo dramatic course changes. If bridge designers assume that the hydrology will not change over 50 years, then the collapsed bridges cannot be blamed on Typhoon Morak, but on the bridge designer's naivete.

Typhoon Morakot caused the collapse of the Shuangyuan Bridge and Chiwei Bridge near the mouth of the Kaoping Creek, and the Taching Bridge across the Laonung Creek, where it crosses Maoling. None of these bridges collapsed as a result of old age. They collapsed as a result of hydrological changes in the course of the river or the height of the river bed. None of these collapsed bridges were old. The Taching Bridge was renovated only a few years ago. The problem is not the bridge themselves, but external factors such as the hydrology and geology.

Bridge builders have long ignored hydrological changes. In 2000, Typhoon Bilis caused the collapse of the Kaoping Bridge, part of a major traffic artery. The Control Yuan investigated the highway department and water resources department, wondering why the two failed to coordinate with each other. Only then was a mechanism established to "ensure coordination on river and bridge safety." When necessary, it would enable construction firms and water resources experts to communicate. But the engineering and water resources realms have long mistrusted each other. Coordination was initially pro forma, and even included buck-passing. Only recently have communications improved ever so slightly.

Following the current disaster bridge builders urge the construction of cable-stayed bridges and suspension bridges costing several times the new bridge budget. This money should be spent. It is worth it. For one, it will keep up with aesthetic trends. For another, in principle at least, large span bridges reduce the number of piers subject to erosion, hence the attendant risk of bridge collapses. The collapse of bridges during Typhoon Morakot was actually caused by other factors, including hydrology. Yet bridge designers' recommendations fail to even mention them. This shows that although the interdisciplinary mechanism has been in place several years, bridge designers still do not appreciate the importance of hydrology.

Even when bridge owners have been frightened by the sight of exposed bridge piers, they still may not understand or appreciate river hydrology and water control issues. They may consult water resources experts through liaison units. But they don't trust them. They always consider the water resources experts' recommendations too restrictive. This makes it impossible to resolve the bridge building crisis. Bridge owners don't believe that consolidating the river bed and building weirs can prevent the exposure of bridge piles. They fall back on their own piecemeal reconstruction or new construction, in an effort to restore the bridges to safe status.

Water resources experts consider bridge owners short-sighted for believing that protecting bridge piers with cages and increasing the depth of the bridge's foundation piles will ensure safety. As an example, they cite the highly praised cable-stayed Liling Bridge on National Highway Route Three. A few years ago, even though the Liling Bridge had been completed not long ago, the piles were already exposed. Only after water resources experts consolidated the riverbed upstream, did the river sand gradually return. This simultaneously improved the overall safety of the Kaoping River riverbed and solved the problem of the exposed foundation piles.

The reconstruction of collapsed bridges is an important part of post-disaster reconstruction. Since it is a key issue, let's eliminate compartmentalization. Let's work together. After all, the direction we should be headed is the comprehensive management of bridges and rivers.

斷橋遺恨 何日方休
2009.08.17 03:36 am











Thursday, August 13, 2009

Destroyed Villages: The Earth's Warning to Taiwan

Destroyed Villages: The Earth's Warning to Taiwan
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 13, 2009

Thirteen years ago Typhoon Herb severely damaged the Central Cross-Island Highway in Nantou. For the first time the public on Taiwan understood the meaning of the term "landslide." Thirteen years later, Typhoon Morakot raged through Kaohsiung and Pingtung. Landslide damage was so severe entire villages were wiped out, buried beneath mountains of mud. In Hsiaoling Village, Chiahsien Township, over 200 households vanished from the face of the earth, overnight, leaving people in shock, grief, and confusion. But why was Hsiaoling Village destroyed?
Hsiaoling Village is located on the east bank of Nanhsinghsien Creek, on Taiwan Provincial Highway Route 21. It is nestled between mountains and streams. It was originally a beautiful, lush green village on Pingpu Tribal land. The day disaster struck, it was not the Nanhsinghsien Creek that swallowed up Hsaoling Village, but an unnamed, untamed creek that flowed through the village.

The Landslide Red Alert issued by the Council of Agriculture classified two untamed creeks in Hsiaoling Village as "high disaster potential creeks." These could trigger landslides. The untamed creek that wiped out the village was designated DF006 on the map. An intense rainstorm loosened soil and boulders atop the mountain, half of which was washed through the village by the raging creek waters, instantly burying the village in its alluvial fan.

The Council of Agriculture fulfilled its obligation to warn of landslides. But its risk assessment report described the danger as "low." The region under alert included only five households. In fact over 200 residences were buried in the carnage. The landslide warning smacked of government bureaucrats covering themselves in the event something went awry. It was not a serious effort "to protect and serve." Worse still, last year Chiahsien Township requested that the creek be cleared. The Water Conservation Bureau turned down the request. The reason it gave was "The gravel is valuable. The request for creek clearing could be motivated by commercial interests." What sort of attitude is that?

Hsiaoling Village was not the only village wiped out. Two years ago, farther north along Route 21, three villages whose names were changed from Minzhu Village, Minquan Village, and Minsheng Village to Namaxia Village, were also severely damaged. Liukuei Village and Taoyuan Village, on the other side of the mountain, along the Lao-Nong River, have been cut off from outside contact. No one even knows what their situation is. Farther to the east, in Taitung, Chialan Village and Taimali Village, many houses were washed away by raging creek waters. Some were even carried out into the Pacific Ocean. The tension between man and the earth has reached the breaking point. Shouldn't we stop to ponder cause and effect?

In addition to heavy rains, what factors were responsible for intensifying the landslides? Over-development was one. Hsiaoling Village was a long-established village on Pingpu Tribal land. Landslides were unheard of. This suggests that the initial choice of location was not the problem. This was clearly different from the many settlements on the banks of creeks established by Hans who migrated from the flatlands. The problem is that in recent years, many outsiders have settled in Hsiaoling Village. The surrounding mountainsides have been continually developed. Ginger and taro crops require deep plowing. They rapidly deplete the soil. They imperceptibly undermine the adjacent soil and water.

According to the Butterfly Effect, a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the globe. Perhaps Hsiaoling village was wiped out because someone plowed a field, or dug a pit, or built a house he shouldn't have within the watershed. He may have destroyed the ecological balance. The result was the destruction of the village, and the loss of ancestral lands. But who will be held accountable in such a complex chain of causation? Some people are also sure to ask, when did it become a sin to labor in the fields?

Actually last year Typhoon Kalmaegi gave Hsiaoling Village a warning. A bridge outside the village was destroyed. Soil and boulders were washed into nine out of ten houses in the village. But because no human lives were lost, outside attention focused on casualties in Yukuanghsiang Village in neighboring Tungan Township. The warning was ignored. The only conclusion was, "It must be rebuilt as soon as possible." Hsiaoling Village once consisted of only a few dozen households. People used hand tools to scratch out a living. They were incapable of inflicting much damage to the land. But when the population surged, and excavators and bobcats became common, the scale of operations were increased in the pursuit of the bottom line. How can man maintain a balanced relationship with the earth under such circumstances? How can the ecological balance not be upset?

As one enters the new Central Cross-Island Highway, one can see excavators sitting on both sides of the Nantou Highway, and the storefronts of earth-moving machinery rental places. It is not difficult to imagine the extent to which such machinery is abused on Taiwan. It is not difficult to imagine the destructive impact of unrestrained development on the mountain regions. In recent years, the popularity of Taiwan's high mountain fruits and vegetables have proven the initiative of local farmers. But in the process, they have gone down a dangerous road. Who knows when they will fall over the precipice? The Chihpen and Hongyeh Hot Springs resorts in Taitung, the Baolai and Maolin Hot Springs resorts in Kaohsiung, and the Meishan Hot Springs resort in Chiayi, have all been been severely damaged. This reveals problems with development and management.

The public on Taiwan was unfamiliar with landslides a dozen or so years ago. Now, each landslide is worse than the last. Besides bemoaning the loss of life, what can we learn from the destruction of these villages?

2009.08.13 06:22 am




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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Evacuating 50,000 Townfolk ridiculous?

Is Evacuating 50,000 Townfolk ridiculous?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 12, 2009

In one particular county, Typhoon Morakot buried an entire town. The county executive later said that evacuating several towns would have been a major undertaking involving 40,000 to 50,000 people. What official, he asked, would have the temerity to evacuate an entire town based on a 1000 mm rainfall forecast?
One newspaper spoke out on his behalf. Its headline read "Ridiculous!"

This editorial examines how the minds of people in office think. We have no desire to become caught up in a war of words. Although everyone knows which county executive we are referring to, he will nevertheless remain nameless. Allow us to engage in a little Monday morning quarterbacking. The town has already been buried under a mountain of mud. The tragedy has already occurred. But suppose this county executive had decided to evacuate the town, and significantly reduced the number of fatalities that followed, would his evacuation still be characterized as "ridiculous?"

The public watches television. It has seen how officials in the southern United States evacuate entire populations as a result of hurricane forecasts. Often the evacuation takes place one or two days before the hurricane strikes. The skies are completely clear. But the highway leading out of the city is backed up for miles. The car tops are piled high with valuables. Tell us, is the sight of millions of people evacuating a city under completely clear skies ridiculous?

One must not of course be too hard on that particular county executive. When hurricanes strike the United States, entire towns and entire cities are often wiped out. Taiwan has not experienced such a tragedy in several decades. In the mind of the county executive, an entire town being wiped out was inconceivable. Naturally evacuating an entire town never even occurred to him. The county government probably didn't even have procedures in place for the evacuation, rescue, and resettlement of tens of thousands of residents. Even if the county executive had decided to evacuate, persuading the villagers would have been no easy task. Perhaps this is what the county executive meant when he said "What official would have the temerity to evacuate an entire town based on a 1000 mm rainfall forecast?"

On the other hand, Taiwan is such a tiny island. In the face of devastating natural disasters, the president and premier are for all practical purposes, county executives and city mayors. County executives and city mayors are for all practical purposes, village and borough chiefs. County magistrates and city mayors have responsibilities for disaster prevention and response that they cannot shirk. As for the cases cited above, they cannot blame tardy weather forecasts. After all, the Central Weather Bureau increased its rainfall forecast for the county in question to over 1000 mm that same day. During such emergencies, county executives have been effectively demoted to the level of village and borough chiefs. They must be alert to the region's soil and water conditions. They must bear greater responsibility and authority for typhoon risk assessment than local residents. If a county executive does not dare to evacuate when the forecast is 1000 mm of rainfall, how about when the forecast is 2000 mm of rainfall? Is this a lack of courage? Or is it a lack of intelligence or ability?

Besides, Kaohsiung County, Pingtung County, and Taitung County officials, to their regret, were also late to evacuate. Why was Tainan City able to make the bold decision to evacuate? Did Mayor Hsu Tien-tsai make a sacrifice to the gods?

After the painful lesson of the 8/8 Flood, officials must change their thinking. The keyword in meteorology today is "extreme weather." It refers to causeless, random, "off the chart" numbers. As noted earlier, for county executives, the notion that an entire town could be wiped out was inconceivable. That is why they considered evacuation of an entire town ridiculous. But today "extreme weather" is the norm. Officials must have the courage to make bold decisions. This applies not merely to disaster response strategies. It applies especially to future hydrological projects, whether they take into account "extreme weather" conditions. For example, can the town be promptly evacuated? If the town can not be evacuated, can one order the ground floors cleared, allowing the flood waters to wash through? Such schemes may sound "ridiculous" on Taiwan. But they are commonplace throughout areas prone to flooding in Southeast Asia. Otherwise, if one merely rebuilds in the same location, only to be flooded again next year, wouldn't that be even more "ridiculous?"

Furthermore, the role of officials must change. As pointed out earlier, when a major disaster occurs on the island of Taiwan, the president becomes a county executive or city mayor. County executives and city mayors become village and borough chiefs. Village and borough chiefs become scouts at the point. Normally the primary responsibility for water and soil conservation rests with county and city governments. In the event of a disaster, someone must decide whether to evacuate. The responsibility must fall on the shoulders of county executives and city mayors, and not officials at other levels. During past typhoons, we have seen county executives and city mayors go door to door urging residents to evacuate. This time, county executives and city mayors should reflect on their failure to respond in a timely manner. They can hardly excuse themselves by claiming that decisive action would have been "ridiculous." They should recall television images of officials in the United States evacuating entire cities!

Heaven and earth have no compassion, and regard the people as straw dogs (sacrificial beasts). Officials are unwise, and regard the people as straw dogs. The public detests officials who pass the buck back and forth in an attempt to disown responsibility. The entire government, from the central government level to the village level, should learn from its mistakes, and engage in thorough introspection. Since weather changes are so "ridiculous," future national safety, water and soil conservation, ecological protection, urban and regional infrastructure, disaster prevention and response measures must be expanded and upgraded. Independence, courage, and vision are needed to build a new, ecologically sound Taiwan.

2009.08.12 05:16 am