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Building Much-needed Disaster Emergency Response System

In the first nine months of 2005, China has seen the worst side of floods, typhoons, droughts, hailstorms and snowstorms, landslides and earthquakes. Realizing that something has to be done to boost the nation's ability to cope with potentially catastrophic natural phenomena, the government established a natural disaster emergency response system.

Jia Zhibang, vice minister of the Civil Affairs, said on Thursday that China is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. Since the 1990's, economic losses incurred from natural disasters have risen sharply, affecting economic development.

This year alone, 1,630 lives were lost to natural disasters and 13 million people evacuated. Economic losses have reached 163 billion yuan so far.

He Pinwei, a disaster-relief expert in Shanghai, said the international experiences have proven that adequate contingency plans cam help to mitigate the losses.

A senior official with the State Disaster Relief Commission (SDRC) on Thursday said China has established a preliminary national natural disaster emergency response system. The central government has so far mapped out an overall emergency response system, 20 special plans and 85 departmental plans.

By the end of 2004, provincial-level emergency response plans had been hammered out by 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. 310 out of 333 municipal governments and 2,347 out of 2,861 county-level governments have followed suit.

To establish the natural disaster emergency response system, or disaster information network, disaster relief reserves and equipment have all been improved. An information highway for disaster scenario simulation is now available at the county level, ensuring the timely delivery of disaster scenario information from bottom to top.

A funds allocation and relief supply system that can be activated within two to three working days following a disaster is now in place.

Also in place is a state supply reserve relief system that includes 10 reserve centers directly under central government control and 31 reserve centers at the provincial level and in disaster-prone counties. Under this system, the first batch of disaster relief supplies can be made available to the disaster-hit regions within 24 hours, Jia said.

An integrated synergy response mechanism to major natural disasters has been designed to ensure a quick and synergetic response.

A mass mobilization mechanism has also been established, and more power has been given to charities and non-profit organizations to effect rescue and relief.

From 1996 to 2004, donations from the public, both in cash and kind, added up to 24.5 billion yuan. In 1996, the Ministry of Civil Affairs facilitated the establishment of a sister-ship mechanism of disaster relief programs between China's rich eastern coast and under-developed west, involving 18 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

"Although the Chinese government is doing its best to reduce the death toll in natural disaster through this emergency response system, room for improvement still exists," said Jia, adding that citizen's awareness of disaster relief is weak, and some grassroots governments typically fail to implement contingency plans effectively.

(Xinhua News Agency September 23, 2005)

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