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Disaster law to reflect experience
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The revision of the Earthquake Precaution and Disaster Relief Law has been deferred to incorporate the experience gathered from the rescue and relief work after the May 12 earthquake.

The law was to have been revised later this month, according to the legislative agenda of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee released in April.

But a committee chairpersons' meeting, presided over by top legislator Wu Bangguo, yesterday decided to postpone the review to offer legislators time to add rules based on real experience.

The NPC, the country's top legislature, will to hear a State Council report on relief and reconstruction work in Sichuan province at its regular session that starts next Tuesday.

Details of the rules to be added were not released, but insiders said the role of the army and paramilitary forces in disaster relief, the declaration of national mourning days and the improvement in the emergency management mechanism could be incorporated.

The army and paramilitary forces played a key role in the relief efforts, and the law should make such practices legally binding, said Mo Jihong, a researcher with the law institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who is part of the legislation team.

The existing law has only one sentence on the subject, which says military and paramilitary forces should fulfill disaster relief tasks.

The national flag was flown at half mast for the first time to mourn the death of ordinary people after the May 12 quake. The Olympic torch relay and all public amusement activities were suspended, too, on the three national mourning days, from May 19 to 21.

The declaration of national mourning showed the great respect the government has for human lives, but it is not part of the law, Mo said.

He called for clearer rules to deal with people who use substandard materials to build weak public facilities and to help victims who cannot earn their living when a disaster strikes or lose their capability to do so forever.

Wang Zhenjiang, a senior official from the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, confirmed that the revision was deferred because the law had to be amended further.

The first amendment was submitted to the State Council before the Sichuan quake, he said.

"At least 11 stipulations in the original amendment need to be changed," Wang said.

Other experts are also pushing for a new, comprehensive law on disaster relief.

Jin Lei, deputy secretary-general of China Association of Disaster Prevention, said the country now has about 10 laws to deal with specific disasters or emergencies, but lacks a fundamental law to regulate the overall response mechanism.

(China Daily June 17, 2008)

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