China's top legislature on Saturday began its first hearing of the draft law on emergency management, aiming at upgrading the country's ability to cope with frequent outbreaks of industrial accidents, natural disasters, health and public security hazards.
The decision to introduce such a law was made in May 2003, as China was under the SARS threat, a time when the government's inexperience to handle sudden virus outbreak led to one of the country's most serious health hazards.
"It was drawn up after we studied emergency management experiences in a dozen of developed countries including the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan, and conducted a series of field study around China," said Cao Kangtai, director of Legislative Affairs Office under the State Council, or China's cabinet.
Addressing lawmakers on the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Saturday, Cao said the bill mainly regulates the government's acts in hazard preparation, emergency detection and declaration, emergency handling, and damage recovery.
Cao said introducing emergency management law will effectively curb hazard outbreak, prevent common emergency from turning into public crisis, and reduce the damages.
The bill stipulates penalties for local government officials over failure in handling emergencies. Officials who fail to take precaution measures, delay emergency declaration, or try to cover up will face penalties up to sacking, it says.
Cao said it was aimed at restricting the administrative power in unusual times, when the government can more easily abuse its power to violate rights of the common people and non-governmental organizations.
"China is a country frequently hit by natural disasters and industrial accidents, which have caused huge loss of people's lives and property," he said.
Police's record shows that the number of sudden natural and industrial mishaps reached 5.61 million in 2004, leaving 210,000 people dead and another 1.75 million injured. The direct economic loss topped 450 billion yuan (US$56.3 billion).
In 2005, bird flu broke out in several Chinese provinces leading to a hundred million of fowl culled and a economic loss over a hundred thousand. And late last year, a toxic spill in northeastern Songhua River forced 4 million residents in the nearby city of Harbin to live without tap water for four days.
Over the past three years, many officials have resigned or have been removed from the posts for their inability to put emergencies under control, including the former health minister Zhang Wenkang, being sacked for SARS cover-up in 2003, and the former environment minister Xie Zhenhua, who quitted the post in 2005 for the situation of Songhua River pollution running out of hands.
(Xinhua News Agency June 24, 2006)