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The collapse of a 13-storeyed apartment block under construction on Lianhua Road South in Shanghai's Minhang District on Saturday morning has come as a great shock. This mishap in China's largest metropolis - which prides itself on quality in all that it delivers - comes less than six weeks after the collapse of a viaduct in Zhuzhou in Hunan province killing nine people.

It is extremely tragic that the 28-year-old Mr. Xiao died in this mishap, which should have been entirely avoidable. While our heart goes out to his near and dear ones, it is a small mercy that the building was still under construction and not occupied at all. Otherwise the toll would have been heavier. Equally merciful is that the building came crashing down at 5:30 in the morning rather than during the busier hours of the day, when many construction workers would have been inside or around the structure.

Regardless of the death toll, public anger can only increase in the wake of such shoddy construction projects being exposed for the risks they involve to potential owners and occupants, workers and passers-by.

It is astonishing that a property developer with an expired license was allowed to construct such a residential project. The authorities need to answer why the collapse of the nearby river embankment a day ago did not draw their attention to the risks ahead; and, why the foundation for a 13-storey building was on weak ground near a waterway.

A thorough investigation, as ordered by Shanghai leaders over the weekend, should be able to tell whether this is another case of corruption involving both officials and businessmen. It is no secret that the construction industry is one of the most corrupt. It has brought a fortune to many rent-seeking public servants, and it has also brought down many high-level officials.

Like tainted food, complaints about poor quality apartments are frequently in the headlines these days. Some local governments, which depend on the property market for their revenue, have clearly not followed due procedure in approving and supervising construction projects. Given this situation, the building collapse in Shanghai may not be that accidental.

People are bound to ask how safe are the towers they live in, and for how long? People may wonder whether many apartment blocks are built to last for the 70 years contracted, or they would not stand firm beyond 30 to 40 years as insiders and experts insist.

It is certainly a legitimate question for Shanghai where tens of thousands of workers are racing against time on the World Expo sites, where a massive subway system is being built, passing numerous residential buildings and historic structures.

It is ironic that such an accident happened in Shanghai - one of the most advanced and international Chinese cities. The sheer fact that such a collapse occurred in the country's biggest metropolis should serve as a warning to all developers and the authorities to ensure that construction projects do not cut corners and endanger people's lives.

(China Daily June 29, 2009)

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