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China to revamp disaster warning system
By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-09 23:08

China is poised to upgrade its early warning natural disaster system following the devastation in southern Asia.

Government ministries have been "mulling" over modernizing their early warning system by seeking international co-operation.

"The tsunami disaster has caused unprecedented losses and shows it can happen when there is a lack of an efficient early warning and reporting system," said Zou Ming, deputy director of Disaster and Social Relief Department under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

An upgrade may also cut back on the financial costs of natural disasters.

"Every year, the average direct and indirect economic loss caused by such disasters accounts for 6-10 per cent of the nation's GDP," Zou said.

China is confronted by a range of natural and man-made hazards. Since the 1990s, natural disasters cost 150 billion yuan (US$18 billion) annually, statistics show.

"China should urgently establish an integrated disaster warning and information processing system. It should also enhance international co-operation," Zou told China Daily during an exclusive interview.

Current system

Like many of its Asian neighbours, China has an established "central government-oriented" disaster warning and relief system which has been expanded to local government level.

The current system "guarantees that major disaster information" would reach the central government within 24 hours, and the first batch of relief materials would reach victims within the same time frame.

The country has 10 relief materials storehouses in risk areas. More than 56 per cent of local county governments have established their own emergency storehouses across China, Zou said.

"However, the country's early warning systems need to be fully integrated to improve efficiency," Zou said.

Different types of disasters are monitored and supervised by different departments and institutions. Earthquakes are monitored by earthquake bureaux, floods are supervised by water resource and meteorological departments and mud slides are supervised by land and resource departments.

Each type of disaster has its own warning and information processing system which is not compatible to others.

Integrated alert

"To better share information and improve efficiency, an integrated platform should be established to coordinate all disaster warning and information," Zou said.

His ministry met with disaster warning and relief experts over the weekend to discuss China's strategies in responding to huge natural disasters in the future.

Later this month, China will host a workshop with ASEAN to discuss information sharing and international co-operation to establish an early-warning mechanism.

Experts from the State Oceanographic Bureau said China has large tsunami was unlikely because the country's coastal areas were surrounded by shallow waters, and sheltered by a the continental shelf which "can reduce wave energy."

Statistics show China has witnessed three small tsunamis since 1949.

"The country should be fully prepared however, to prevent heavy losses from other natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods," Zou said.

"The country is preparing to improve its law and policies on disaster prevention," Zou said.

"There is no integrated law covering disasters, and this leads to low working efficiency and overlapping," Zou said.

Disaster prevention law and policy is one of the most urgent tasks the ministry needs to tackle this year, along with public disaster prevention awareness education in schools and communities, he said.

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