In a report on urban development commissioned by the Ministry of Construction, experts said that many of China's big cities prone to natural disasters such as floods, typhoons, droughts, blizzards and earthquakes are ill-equipped to deal with them with little or no disaster prevention and relief system in place.
The report was released at a forum yesterday organized by the China Mayors' Association.
Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan noted the report's conclusions in his keynote speech, and warned: "Many municipal governments in China are weak in urban management and disaster prevention."
He also called on the nearly 300 mayors who attended the one-day forum to abandon blind expansion of cities and focus their time and energy on increasing disaster preparation and prevention capabilities.
Zeng warned that as the numbers of residents in major cities grow, "any natural disaster could catch many people unprepared if we continuously ignore the problems occurring in the process of urban sprawl."
China's urbanization rate was 43 percent in 2005 and by 2020 is likely to reach 60 percent.
"However, China's cities are vulnerable in terms of disaster relief," warned Shi Peijun, a professor with Beijing Normal University, who led the team in writing the chapter on urban disaster prevention in the annual report.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also pinpointed natural disasters as a major challenge facing China.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said last week that China is facing its most severe natural disaster situation in six years.
By August 15, natural disasters had killed at least 2,006 people, affected more than 316 million people, left some 624 people missing, displaced 12.95 million people, destroyed 36 million hectares of farmland, and caused 160 billion yuan (US$20 billion) worth of damage this year alone.
Shi also suggested that the country should continuously increase spending on disaster relief.
Although spending was raised from 1.9 billion yuan (US$230 million) in 1995 to 4 billion yuan (US$500 million) in 2004, in percentage terms, it has decreased.
According to international standards, the central government should contribute 0.8 percent of its total financial expenditure to disaster prevention and relief. But the ratio in China has decreased from 0.96 percent in 1995 to 0.4 percent now.
Shi also suggested that China should build more national disaster relief reserve centers in southern and western China, where natural disasters frequently occur.
China now has 10 national reserve centers, and similar facilities should be built in Yunnan, the Tibet Autonomous Region and western provinces, Shi added.
(China Daily August 23, 2006)