This is Disaster Awareness Week in China, but some people still see such calamities as events distant from their lives, while others think that the possibility of a disaster striking is very small and not worth preparing for. As ever, people are bad at assessing risk, and they are not willing to spend time and energy preparing for disaster.
But when we look at the relatively small cost of proper preparation, compared to the catastrophic burdens of disaster, we can be aware of how serious the problem is.
The direct economic losses from the Wenchuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 alone totaled 845.1 billion yuan ($130 billion), and it claimed over 80,000 lives, and left many more disabled. Huge losses of life and wealth stemmed, in part, from the lack of public training in emergency response.
When accidents or disasters happen in China, professional medical rescue teams are often effectively paralyzed or late, and the first responders are often untrained and lack the skills to deal with emergencies, avoid danger and provide aid.
When it comes to unnatural deaths in China, if we exclude major and unexpected natural disasters, as many as 80 percent of people killed could have saved their own lives by responding faster to the emergency or taking appropriate precautionary measures.
The lack of knowledge and skills in emergency response is one factor that kills people. Although the outline of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) refers to "enhancing the grass roots' ability to respond well to emergencies," it only mentions "the building of professional teams, expert teams and voluntary teams," without giving consideration to improving public awareness of proper emergency response.
A mere 1 percent of Chinese citizens are trained in emergency response and basic first aid. This compares poorly to other countries and regions, where first aid classes are often taught in schools or taken by responsible adults.