Tuesday, February 5, 2008

China is doing its best to minimize the inconvenience of its travelers and residents hit by severe weather

By China Watcher

Most of the written reports and articles from the Western media that highlighted the unexpected bad weather in China, the worse the country has seen in 50 years, at most, have been negative. For the past 3 weeks the heavy snowfall has hit China’s eastern, central and even the Southern regions. According to the Ministry of Civil Affair, the storms affected 19 provinces, municipalities and the autonomous regions as well.

The brutal storm continued to wreaked havoc to the country’s transportation network and energy distribution grid. The media and journalists really go to the length to describe the chaotic situation at the many railway stations and the freezing cold atmosphere in hotels and the streets, both the result of persistent power outages.

In addition, the snowstorms have also caused lives, structural collapses, blackouts, livestock and crop destruction. Monetary losses are estimated to be about US$7.5 billion. To date, about 60 people were reported to have died as a result of the storms, including 25 people who were killed when a bus plunged off an icy road on 29 January 2008 in Guizhou Province. Two days ago, it was reported that one woman was trampled to death in a stampede over the weekend, at the Guangzhou railway station in the Southern part of the country.

Interviews with the tourists and homeward bound locals at the airports, train stations and bus depots were confined only to the grievous ones who had a lot of negative things to say about the handling of the crisis and the massive turmoil reminiscence of a catastrophe like in an earthquake or a war evacuation.

The Western media openly announced that many migrant workers were unhappy about the conditions and adopted a critical view of the government’s emergency response. There were no customer service personnel at the railway stations to handle and cater to the travelers’ needs and also, no emergency relief task force to assist the stranded cars on snowbound highways.

The reports were lop-sided and it was anything but fair. The Chinese government did try its best to minimize the inconvenience and efforts were made to restore the power which is critical to bring the transportation grid back to its normal operating level. The problem is compounded by the higher volume of traffic which is not in the region of 20 millions travelers like in the US but hundreds of millions of people moving back simultaneously to their hometown to celebrate the Lunar Spring Festival on 7 February 2008.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited a few localities around the country stricken by the severe winter and urged stranded travelers to be patient as the government is doing its best to alleviate the situation by getting the power restored to normalize the rail services. Chinese President Hu Jintao joined in to address the Chinese crowd and told them to face the worsening situation with courage. He mentioned that the government will try to minimize the people’s inconvenience while they brace for a much longer wait for the stormy weather to subside.

The Chinese Daily reported that about 460,000 People's Liberation Army troops and paramilitary forces were dispatched to the areas worst hit by the heavy snows to help clear roads, restore power and conduct other relief operations.

Last night, China’s chief meteorologist admitted that the country was not prepared for a severe winter to strike during the period when millions of people are expected to trek back to their native homes from the coastal provinces. Even without the bad weather, China’s transportation systems are already congested with hordes of people moving within the country during the Festival occasions.

The meteorologist cited that there is a lack of equipments for removing ice in the southern region whereby heavy snowing is usually uncommon. In the northern region in which snowstorms are prevalent, the emergency teams are more prepared for such calamities.

The East China Branch of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China announced that there were still plenty of flight delays, but cancellations on Sunday 3 February were fewer than those on Saturday. From its flight records on that day, among 2,338 scheduled flights at airports in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi and Shanghai, 1,022 were delayed, but only 261 were cancelled.

In the meantime, more trains had resumed and highways re-opened in the respective regions. At the Shanghai Railway Station, about 795,000 passengers were moved out to their respective destinations and some 110,000 have opted to travel by road. We believe that there is no country in this world that would be able to cope with half a million of passengers within such a short period of time. Not even in the US.

It is important that every civil society groups are mobilized to effectively deal with emergency crisis or a disaster. The All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and its machinery has contributed much to the relief work.

Currently, it was reported that South Korea, Japan and the SAR region of Hong Kong have offered both financial and relief assistance to China. There were not even a token of financial or relief help from the West and worse still, there were no morale support but loads of criticisms towards China at handling the crisis. Actually the government is capable to resolve the problem on its own but it is during a crisis where you will know who your true friends are.

Let us judge China as a developing country with a sizeable population of 1.3 billion where there are still 200 million people who live below the poverty line – less than US$1 per day. China is still trying to cultivate a civil society where promoting respects among people and eradicating century old habits are quite difficult and time consuming. This is more so where a large part of the societies are poorly educated.

In time of crisis, it is important to see that every traveler is able to reach its destination to be home with their loved ones and time is not so crucial – so the article on the 61-hour ordeal by the Western media is just too much with a hidden motive.

We believe that a human inert survival instinct is to take care of oneself in time of crisis and if the crowds are not civic minded, you can bet there will be lots of pushing and rushing to reach one’s objective. We are seeing millions of people moving across the train platforms and it is not easy to control the crowd especially in a crisis situation. Just try to imagine what would happen to a 4- crossing traffic junctions when the traffic lights are out. Maybe we could get those critical journalists to man the traffic until the lights are restored.

Even a superpower like the US with its established relief and disaster monitoring teams waited for 2 long weeks before any relief efforts can get going during the Katrina’s storms and floods in 2005 where 1,836 human lives were lost.

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