'Coordinate disaster response'
By Wang Zhuoqiong
Updated: 2007-01-05 07:09

A senior official has called for the establishment of a high-level system to help prevent disasters and reduce potential damage caused by them.

The issue is at the center of the forthcoming National Programs of Comprehensive Disaster Reduction, under the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10). The programs will be included in a guiding paper aimed at improving the country's disaster-response capabilities, said Zou Ming, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Civil Affairs' (MCA) Department of Disaster & Social Relief.

Unlike the National Disaster Reduction Program of China (1998-2010), which emphasized principles, the new programs focus on information-sharing, coordinating ministry-level disaster prevention efforts, and increasing public awareness of how to respond to disasters, he said.

"Disasters like flooding and earthquakes could strike at the same place, so having a system in place that will allow the authorities to respond in a coordinated manner will improve efficiency and yield positive results," he said.

Other experts echoed his comments.

"Coordination will lead to better, more effective responses and stronger community awareness and participation," said Alessandra Tisot, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) senior deputy resident representative in China.

"It is a key component to disaster risk management (DRM), and one of the best ways to combat disasters.

"International experience has proven that disaster risk management saves both lives and money. One dollar invested in disaster reduction today can save up to $7 tomorrow in relief and rehabilitation costs,' said Tisot.

During the past two decades, the UNDP has about $30 million to 29 local projects involved with responding to natural disasters. The UNDP contributed $400,000 to a $1.2-million DRM project that started in November and will run through 2008. The MCA and local governments will provide the rest of the funding.

The project will select 10 communities in five cities or counties in disaster-prone areas as pilot sites. Local communities will be equipped with computers and information systems and offered tailor-made workshops.

The project will ensure that women and children, who are most vulnerable to the effects of disasters, are aware of how to prepare in advance, how to react to warnings and how to reduce the risk of harm at home and in their communities.

"Many disasters have happened right next to us. Community awareness of disaster prevention can reduce losses," Zou said.

The government has stressed the importance of international cooperation that results in exchanges of advanced expertise and training that benefits from international experience.

One example of such cooperation is the International Drought Risk Reduction Center, a joint effort with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, an organization under the United Nations. The center, which will be launched next May, will help Chinese authorities reduce the threat of droughts and develop an information-sharing platform, Zou said.

In addition, the authorities are planning to build up the country's infrastructure network by increasing the number of warehouses for material storage to 21 from 10, Zou said.

As typhoon Saomai and the droughts in Southwest China's Sichuan Province this year showed, disasters can wipe out whatever gains have been achieved as a result of economic development.

(China Daily 01/05/2007 page3)