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What lessons can be learned after disaster?

By Zhang Zhouxiang (China Daily) Updated: 2017-06-28 07:36

Editor's note: As of Tuesday, 10 people were confirmed dead, and 93 were still missing after a landslide engulfed Xinmo village in Maoxian county, Southwest China's Sichuan province, on Saturday. Can anything be done to prevent such natural disasters? And what can be done to improve the rescue efforts after a disaster happens? Three experts shared their views with China Daily's Zhang Zhouxiang:

Building ban in high-risk areas must be enforced

Zhang Jinde, a senior engineer at the China Institute of Geological Environment Monitoring

It is impossible to prevent such landslides from happening, so we need to try to prevent or minimize the harm they cause. There are three steps that can be taken to achieve this: identifying inhabited zones on mountain slopes where there is a landslide risk, taking preventive measures to minimize damage that a landslide might cause and monitoring.

Monitoring should consist of remote monitoring with satellites, and on-site monitoring with geological devices. In practice, the latter is more reliable because it provides more detailed information about the geological structure of the mountain slope.

After the earthquake that hit Wenchuan in Sichuan province in 2008, the government sent many teams to monitor mountainous areas across the province. But landslides are still uncertain and unpredictable. All we can do is to collect the data and analyze the possibility of a landslide in the coming months.

But determining which areas are not inhabitable because of the risk of a landside is ultimately more important than monitoring. Since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, the government has issued many national standards on the issue, which define clearly the kinds of places where houses can be built and those areas where building is forbidden. These standards must be strictly observed to minimize the number of casualties in landslides and other natural disasters.

Wenchuan earthquake made mountainsides more unstable

Fan Xiao, a senior engineer with the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau of Regional Geological Survey Team

Sichuan has quite unstable geological conditions because it is where the basin meets the mountain and the movements of the Earth's crust are very strong. During the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, many mountains in the region were damaged, which has increased the frequency of landslides.

In order to address this issue, the government has arranged for the mountainous areas of the province to be monitored since 2008, and organized many engineering programs to improve the local conditions. However, some people still construct their houses in dangerous areas. A large percentage of the land in Sichuan is in mountainous areas where the land available for construction is limited. In some cities they dig into the mountains for new constructions and in others there are even buildings located in places which are prone to floods.

The growing population and the accelerated urbanization process increase the risks of such disasters. We can have strict safety standards, but these standards must be strictly followed to ensure safety.

Better coordination has improved rescue efforts

Zhang Qiang, a professor on public policies at Beijing Normal University

From 2008 to 2017, Sichuan has suffered at least three major disasters: the earthquake in Wenchuan in 2008, the earthquake in Lushan in 2013, and the landslide in Maoxian in 2017. In each of these disasters, volunteers from across the country rushed to the site.

In 2008, when rescue volunteers rushed to Wenchuan, there was hardly any coordination and they worked with enthusiasm rather than professionalism. The situation changed in 2013 when the first volunteer service center was founded at the disaster site in Lushan, which coordinated the various rescue teams so that they could play their roles to their full potential.

This time in Maoxian, thanks to social networks and other digital technologies, the coordination among the local government and various social organizations has ensured that the human resources have been put to the most efficient use. On Sunday, the local government even asked some rescue teams to withdraw from the site, which shows it has complete information and could make a judgment about the effectiveness of rescue efforts. However, there is still a long way to go and better urban planning and publicity are also needed to better prevent and respond to natural disasters.

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