Typhoon Morakot is History, But Its Lessons Must Not Be Forgotten
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 8, 2011
Summary: Typhoon Muifa brushed past and left. Today is the second anniversary of Typhoon Morakot. Typhoon Morakot, which struck in 2009, was the disaster of the century. This notorious typhoon is now history. But its lessons must not be forgotten. Post-disaster reconstruction or disaster prevention requires swift passage of the Three National Land Protection Laws. Only then can we begin land surveying, verifying the safety of each and every tract of land, verifying use restrictions, expanding land restoration, reducing man made contributions to natural disasters.
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Typhoon Muifa brushed past and left. Today is the second anniversary of Typhoon Morakot. Typhoon Morakot, which struck in 2009, was the disaster of the century. This notorious typhoon is now history. But its lessons must not be forgotten.
Typhoon Morakot wiped Hsiao Lin Village off the map. It was a natural disaster that shocked the world. It has become important research material for disaster researchers the world over. Many countries have send experts to Mount Zion to investigate, in the hope of finding clues. In particular, Japan's efforts have commanded respect. The first time Japan sent experts to investigate, they confirmed that large areas showed signs of rock creep. This was followed by a survey of the entire land area of Japan. The survey identified potential slide areas and issued warnings. By contrast, authorities on Taiwan took almost no action.
Before the Mount Zion landslide, low frequency signals were detected. Investigators hope this will contribute to an early-warning mechanism for large scale landslides. The subject has been of great interest to the international scientific community. Multinational research teams from Britain, Japan, and the United States are investigating. They hope to develop an early warning mechanism that will benefit mankind, by making a significant contribution to landslide or earthquake prediction. Taiwan is situated in a region prone to natural disasters. Yet political leaders on Taiwan have clearly been lax in their response.
For the past two years, the government has promoted post-disaster reconstruction. In both men and materiel, its reconstruction efforts have been considerably more aggressive than in the past. They have been larger in scale, and more efficient in execution. Nevertheless, the recovery has been disappointing. This is especially true for reservoirs, roads, and other infrastructure. As of today, long lasting solutions have yet to be found. The key reason is the potential impact they may have on the National Land Rehabilitation Program. The legislature must pass the required national land use laws. Only then can officials take charge. Otherwise it will remain difficult to effect any permanent cures.
The massive 9/21 Earthquake struck 12 years ago. It wreaked havoc on the geological structures beneath the island. Typhoon Morakot inundated that already fractured and loose earth with hundreds of thousands of tons of precipitation. It accelerated this soil erosion. As a result, Hsiao Lin Village in Kaohsiung, Taimali Township in Taitung, and Chen Youlan Creek Township in Nantou all suffered landslides.
The Legislative Yuan approved special regulations and a special budget for disaster recovery and disaster reconstruction two years ago. Central and local governments have dedicated special staff to the problem. They have made real progress. They have sheltered, cared for, and subsidized disaster victims. They have built prefabricated and permanent housing units. They have begun economic renewal. They have relocated entire villages away from high-risk areas. In this, they have done well. The government has significantly upgraded its disaster response ability. Central and local governments have published disaster prevention maps. Rescue relief officials have affirmed that village, township, and district officials are in charge. These are all useful actions.
But it has done virtually nothing vis a vis the reconstruction of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. The 8/8 Floods heavily impacted the headwaters of Kaoping Creek. The Provincial Highway, which runs through Namasia, Taoyuan, and Hsiao Lin districts in Kaohsiung City, was cut. On the other side of Feng Shui Ya Kou, villages on the upper reaches of the Chen Youlan Creek constitute another kind of disaster area. As of today, no reconstruction has initiated whatsoever. The construction of permanent roads or bridges is anticipated. But how will they go about it? As of today, no one has had the courage to make any decisions.
Consider road reconstruction. Roads in Namasia, Minzhu, and other districts in Kaohsiung City, were cut. Two years of reconstruction have been limited to the repair of steel structures, freight containers, culverts, sidewalks, or temporary bridges, No permanent roads or bridges have been constructed. Local protestors were accorded second-class citizen treatment. The 8/8 Floods dumped 94 million tons of silt into Laonong Creek, raising the creekbed 30 meters. Highway authorities have no response. Over the past two years, whenever it rains in the mountain regions, pathways and temporary bridges are all swept into the sea like so much flotsam. A dozen or more reconstructed pathways and temporary bridges were battered by southwest winds from Typhoon Milei. Half of them were washed into the sea
Creek beds in Laonong Creek and other disaster areas were suddenly raised. This affected road or bridge reconstruction. The well-known Tsengwen Creek overflowed and diverted water into tunnels. Hsiao Lin Villagers inititally assumed tunnel blasting caused the landslides that destroyed their village. But long term experiments and surveys prove tunnel blasting had nothing to do with the destruction of the village. Construction on the diversion tunnel was halted all the same. The east outlet of the diversion tunnel runs the risk of being buried at any moment, because the Laonong Creek bed has been raised. Even if it is built, it may not be able to divert much water.
More fundamentally, the problem was the government waited too long. The Three National Land Use Laws intended to protect national lands have been delayed for over five years. The limited amount of usable land on Taiwan has been left in limbo, under non-sustainable conditions, unprotected by National Land Protection Laws. Cumulative erosion resulted in the failure to conserve national lands.
Given such developments, post-disaster reconstruction or disaster prevention requires swift passage of the Three National Land Protection Laws. Only then can we begin land surveying, verifying the safety of each and every tract of land, verifying use restrictions, expanding land restoration, reducing man made contributions to natural disasters.