The Chinese Propaganda Department has issued notice to mainstream and online media outlets regarding the recent disaster in Zhouqu. For the Chinese government, it is a time to mourn rather than digging up the man-made mistakes. Reporters, hence, have been asked to leave the landslide area. However, if we don't admit the man-made mistakes, how can we prevent future ones?
The above quote is one of the hottest QQ micro-blogpost by Lian Yue (连岳). So long as culpability for the human role in ‘natural disasters’ is ignored and denied we will continue to see occurrences of human suffering and loss around the world. Staying within the scope of this post to deal with the world inside China, we can look back over the last 8 months of 2010 and see an enormous amount of wasted potential, energies and lives through ‘natural disasters’ in which either human hands played a role in bringing these events about in the first place, or better human planning, foresight, and recognition of the conditions could have prevented such serious consequences.
Indeed, on SOSO's blog search for ‘natural disaster’ (天灾), the first result returned is a blog entitled Natural Disaster together with Man-made Disaster (天灾与人祸) by blogger ‘Small Qiao Running Water Family’ (小桥流水人家). Just three results down is the title Regarding Natural Disasters, Can We Only “Blame Nature” and not “Fault People”? (面对天灾，我们能只“怨天”不“尤人”吗？) posted by ‘Good Morning!’ （早安） Directly following this post is Southern Region's Water Crisis- Natural Disaster or Man-made Disaster? (南方水灾天灾还是人祸？) by ‘Sacred Land Mother Earth” (神州大地).
What is the human role behind the toll of natural disaster?
As of this posting, of the first 10 results on SOSO, 5 of the titles specifically question whether these ‘natural disasters’ should really be considered natural disasters. 8 of the 10 deal with precisely this subject of when does the real responsibility for the grave human and economic consequences of ‘natural disaster’ truly lie with humanity and not nature?
Jiujiang's dam burst again- also worse than in ‘98. Funds are allocated every year, dikes are built every year, flood control every year, fighting floods every year- the results? Children crying. Areas that are supposed to be submerged are wiped out. Where the dam shouldn't burst it bursts. In ‘98 an engineering project was put in place, scientifically known as “soy bean dregs” [term for a program hastily thrown together without substance]. Surveying the aftermath of the earthquakes and heavy rains, these projects- which are spread throughout China's sacred land- makes it seems that even if Yu the Great [mythical Chinese ruler from the 21st century B.C.E. who stopped the floods] were living, he couldn't hold back the waters.
Every time these natural disasters appear the government is quick to respond. Everyone donates. Afterward, the same disaster strikes. AGAIN! Keeping in mind that everyone is a genius in hindsight, one can only say that the government is reasonably competent in dealing with these issues- but in terms of a relationship to people's everyday lives, what use do these programs actually have? When an earthquake strikes the schools and hospitals still collapse. When heavy rains fall the dams still burst. When conflict arises the army is still scattered. During the time of causing people harm there's no problem. There's never an investigation into responsibility. Don't tell me that in the face of natural disasters we can simply neglect the role of man-made causes. Every time we see beloved President Wen we always think “he's a good man”, but that's what he should be. Every time we see the army react in an emergency we always consider it to be touching- but that's what they should do. When facing these issues, that is the government's role- not tricking the average people into donating funds. The people shouldn't be paying on behalf of the government's bill.
Only natural disaster is mentioned, not the man-made causes.
Looking through a blog search of ‘natural disaster’ (天灾) on 163.com, one also finds the common thread of questioning the nature of why these disasters are so costly in terms of lives, production, economics and the future. As of this posting, 8 of the 10 titles returned for the first page of results on 163.com directly question the involvement of ‘man-made disaster’ (人祸) in the catastrophic aftermaths of these events.
163.com user ‘Safe Harbor’ (避风港) writes in The Main Culprits in Natural Disasters are We Ourselves (天灾的祸首是我们自己):
What seems to be further evidence of poor human and government policy and planning comes from ‘Very Green’ (何青青) in a piece entitled Please Permanently Remember this Unpunished Sin—Incontrovertible Proof that Man-made Disasters exceed Natural Disasters (请苍天记住这笔孽债—人祸甚于天灾的铁证 ):
报 道说“1958年的那场特大水灾，促成了苦池水库的建设。苦池村所在地天然地势低洼，每每发水，始建于后魏正始二年的人工渠道无法分流洪水，苦池村及周围 村庄总是被淹。1958年，政府在苦池滩修建调洪区，即现在的苦池水库。……1959年建成后，运城没再出现特大水灾。苦池村村民介绍，2006年，在干 枯多年后，库区修建了180亩的东湖，并在水库南部造假山，许多地方开始建房。2009年，这里变成了运城‘东花园’。”
据 有关资料称：水库里最大的非防汛永久性建设项目是占水库面积三分之一的“企业老板别墅区”。该别墅区的官方名称叫“关公企业之家会员俱乐部”。对于记者提 出的有无合法手续、何时售房、房价如何等疑问，一个名叫张俊的经理说：“所有手续齐全，包括土地证、房产证等预售五证全有。每平方米的价格为7000元到 15000元，每栋500万左右吧。”他说，“我们主要面对中小企业家群体，是为这个阶层服务的。”一位当地知情人对记者表示“就是为山西煤老板们建设的 煤老板别墅区。”
The report stated: “1958's great flood facilitated the building of the reservoir. The natural site of the reservoir village was in low-lying terrain. The old irrigation ditches which had been started were not enough to divert the water. The reservoir village and surrounding hamlets were constantly submerged. In 1958, the government built a flood-control basin- the existing reservoir. After its completion in 1959, Yuncheng did not receive more flooding. In 2006, the reservoir village introduced the building of 180 villas as well as a rock garden in the southern part, building in many areas. In 2009 this became Yuncheng's ‘East Garden’.”
A related piece of information says: the largest permanent structure without flood protection- covering one-third of the reservoir's surface area- was the “Company Boss's Villa District”. The official name for the villa district was “Guangong Company Family Member's Club”. As to questions raised by the reporter regarding whether or not lawful procedure was followed- when the building was constructed, what the price of the housing was, these kinds of issues- a certain Manager Jun Zhang said: “All the procedures were completed- including land deeds, property titles, all 5 of the official certificates for the advance sale of property. Each square meter was between 7000-15,000 RMB. Each structure was around 500 square meters. ” He continued,”We principally served small and medium sized business entrepreneurs- that segment of society.” An informed local source told the reporter “it was built for the Shanxi Coal bosses, a Shanxi Coal boss villa district.”
A way forward to prevent these disasters?
While it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect policy and planning to prevent all future loss of life and property from genuine natural disaster, certainly an improvement to existing practice and policy can be asked and expected. It seems clear that in many cases individuals, corporations, and even the government itself have ignored what could be seen as fairly clear signs that certain actions were simply disasters in the making- not unavoidable natural disasters but avoidable disasters of neglect and corruption.
yoyo concludes a post entitled After the Disasters (天灾背后……) with this thought: