Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Building structure standards must be strictly supervised

By China Watcher

The Chinese government reactions and openness to the relief and rescue effort were commendable and earned international praises. This is in contrast to its earlier poor handling of natural calamities (the snowstorm in Southern China) and diseases threatening issues (SARS) at the national level.

The quake has to a certain extent unified the Chinese people to a single cause – to save lives and to alleviate the sufferings of the victims. Thousands of police and military personnel were sent to the quake zone to conduct rescue efforts within 24-36 hours of the incident. Long human queues were seen at the many put-up booths to mobilize blood donations on the streets in big cities along the Eastern Front. The responses from the Chinese public were overwhelming. Celebrities and sports personalities were also actively campaigning or participated in efforts to raise funds for the victims of the quake.

However, the disaster also exposed the inadequacy of past Chinese construction standards in building structure. There were a lot of questions from the netizens concerning the many residential dwellings which were easily flattened from the devastating quake due to the poor quality of building structure. In one particular published photo, I noticed that the surrounding low rise buildings were reduced to rubbles whereas the bigger and taller structures remained intact or standing upright. I could only deduce that the residential houses, schools, factories were constructed without any steel supportive structures while the standing high structures may have been supported by steel supported beams. Corruption could have been a factor in allowing shoddily building materials and standards to be certified for human occupancy even though the minimum threshold had not been achieved.

The Chinese government (both at the central and provincial level) must now stringently re-visit all past approvals especially in quake prone areas to ensure that the minimum standards of building strength and tenacity in the structures are complied with. Building standards in disaster areas should not be any lower than areas where there is no danger of such natural catastrophe. Earthquake-proof buildings should be an acceptable feature in the reconstruction of new shelters for the homeless victims of the quake.

Corruption, which is prevalent even in advanced societies, must be reduced if it cannot be eliminated and there should be no compromise when it concerns human lives. Only if firm decisions are made with a strong commitment will there be a clear minimization of human lives in the event of a natural tragedy.

Local provincial governments, county and district administrators are to be reminded that severe penalties will be taken against them if there are involved in corruptions and that they must be transparent in its reporting especially on those issues that are of national interests like earthquake, flood and food safety, in order to gain the trusts of its citizens. In another promising development, the Chinese government has warned the relevant authorities and volunteered bodies that the source, destination and quantity of relief supplies should be made public and any corruption linked to relief work and fraudulent collections of funds will be severely reprimanded.

It is sad to note that the number of death keeps rising. At the latest count, there were about 40,000 deaths and 35,000 missing.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to send 250,000 temporary housing units to the region by the end of June, and one million within three months at a media conference on Tuesday, 20 May 2008. Engineers and dam experts were on standby to constantly monitor the weakened dam structure due to the bad weather. According to the State Council, China’s Cabinet, the state agencies were told to cut planned spending by 5 percent this year, in order to create a $10 billion reconstruction fund for the homeless in Sichuan.

The Chinese government has done all that could be expected at this time around and I hope that they will continue to raise the bar on its responsive relief efforts to a higher level.

An important lesson that can be drawn from this major disaster is that the minimum quality construction standards for all future human dwellings, complexes and infrastructures should not be compromised. In times of a powerful quake, a good structure actually determines whether a person survives or not.

No comments: