China’s Progress in Coping with Major Natural Disasters

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-11-07 16:34
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China is one of the most severely affected countries by natural disasters in the world. These disasters come in numerous forms, occur on a frequent basis, and affect a wide range of areas, being responsible for significant losses of life and property. Recent years have been among the most severe periods for natural disasters in Chinese history, with major disasters occurring frequently and in close succession. Under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, China has launched a series of major disaster relief efforts in recent years, which have been characterized by rapid responses, widespread participation, and considerable resource commitment. Owing to these efforts, we have succeeded in overcoming a string of major natural disasters, such as extreme winter weather in the south of China, the earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, the earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai Province, and the severe mudslides that occurred in Zhugqu, Gansu Province. Under the leadership of the Party Central Committee, with Xi Jinping as the General Secretary, we are currently carrying out a carefully planned and highly efficient disaster relief operation in areas affected by the recent earthquake in Lushan, Sichuan Province. Through the course of these relief efforts, we have raised our capacity to respond to disasters, kept the losses that these adversities have caused to a minimum, and succeeded in promoting the sustainable development of our economy and society. This has allowed us to do our part in keeping to the Chinese path, carrying forward the Chinese spirit, bringing together Chinese strength, and striving to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. 

August 18, 2013, rescue workers evacuate an elderly resident left stranded by a rainstorm in Puning City, Guangdong Province. More than 25 towns and townships (farms and sub-districts) in Puning, Guangdong, were badly affected by floods as a result of torrential rains from the evening of August 16 to August 18. / Xinhua (Photo by Lu Weirui)

I. Further highlighting political superiorities in disaster management

China exercises a disaster management system in which under unified leadership of Party committees and the government, initiatives are carried out on a coordinated basis, responsibility is divided between different levels of government, and management is mainly assumed by local authorities. In addition, China has established a corresponding emergency management system which gives full play to the political superiority of the socialist system in pooling strength behind major undertakings. In the event of severe and catastrophic disasters, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council always put the safety of the people and their property first. On that basis, they formulate rational decisions, make comprehensive arrangements, and provide strong leadership. The central government then establishes a unified and highly efficient leading body or appoints a commanding organization to oversee the disaster relief effort, which ensures that the relief effort can be carried out in an orderly and efficient manner. A national commission for disaster reduction has been established to formulate guiding principles, policies, and plans for disaster reduction and relief, and to coordinate major disaster reduction initiatives and relief efforts on a nationwide basis. A four-level response mechanism has been established under which appropriate responses are made in accordance with the degree of the emergency, the development of the situation, and the level of damage that could be caused in the event of a sudden natural disaster. In addition, we have also established a number of mechanisms with regard to the release of disaster information, the stockpiling of emergency supplies, early warning consultations, and the sharing of information, coordinated action in rescue and relief efforts following major disasters, and emergency social mobilization in the event of natural disasters. In the event of a major natural disaster, the National Commission for Disaster Reduction and the Ministry of Civil Affairs rapidly coordinate with the relevant departments and the local authorities in the affected areas. Following this, they rapidly provide and share information, organize emergency consultations, analyze and assess the situation, jointly dispatch task groups to the disaster-stricken areas, and formulate various supporting measures. This gives rise to a major concerted effort in which various different parties assume different responsibilities, work in close coordination, and collaborate efficiently. In accordance with the major disaster types, the government has established command centers for flood prevention, drought control, earthquake relief, and forest fire prevention. Through their efforts to carry out more effective early warning, prevention, and disaster response initiatives, these organizations have played a key role in reducing the scale of losses, providing shelter for disaster victims, and supporting recovery and reconstruction efforts. Following the recent earthquake in Lushan, Sichuan Province, the CPC Central Committee instructed the Sichuan provincial government to assume overall leadership, allocate resources reasonably, and make overall arrangements. At the same time, the relevant departments of the State Council have assumed their respective responsibilities, stepped up their guidance, and provided support through collaboration. These arrangements have given rise to a highly effective joint response mechanism in which the central government and the local authorities in question are able to collaborate closely. Just a day after the Lushan earthquake hit, a rescue operation had been launched throughout the entire disaster area, with initiatives such as emergency rescue, medical aid, supply provision, and temporary settlement being carried out in an orderly fashion. The general international view is that China’s disaster relief system boasts clear-cut advantages, allowing for faster and more efficient responses to be mounted in the event of natural disasters. 

II. Placing greater emphasis on pooling strength in disaster response

Helping those in danger, relieving those in need, and showing great care and compassion are not only fine traditions of the Chinese nation, but are also values of our socialist society. In the course of disaster relief, China has committed to a model in which the government takes the lead, the various sectors of society are encouraged to participate, and the role of market mechanisms is brought into play. This leads to the formation of a strong concerted effort among a diverse range of participants, allowing the many to come to the aid of the few, which is where the superiority of socialism lies.

China has laid down an initial emergency rescue framework in which the armed forces, the armed police, public security personnel, and fire brigade constitute a rapid response force; specialist teams in flood response, earthquake relief, forest fire fighting, maritime search and rescue, mine rescue, and medical aid constitute the basic force; and full and part time teams from enterprises and government institutions as well as emergency response volunteers constitute an auxiliary force. In the event of a major natural disaster, the People’s Liberation Army and the armed police respond immediately by issuing rescue orders. Rescue teams from various organizations arrive at the scene in the shortest possible time, setting in motion a national rescue effort in which the various participating departments respond with their full efforts. We worked actively to have the training of skilled disaster reduction and rescue personnel included in the Outline of the National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Human Resources Development (2010-2020), which has helped to promote the development of a professional contingent of social workers in the field of disaster reduction and relief. So far, a contingent of more than 630,000 people has been put together to gather, analyze, organize, and release information with regard to disasters. With these initiatives, our strength in the prevention and mitigation of disasters has grown on a constant basis.

China has established a basic mechanism for social mobilization in disaster relief and response. This mechanism, which mainly involves emergency response, search and rescue, aid and assistance, and donations, has brought about marked increases in our capacity to mobilize social support and bring together social resources in disaster relief. In the face of major natural disasters, the Chinese people are brought together by a single, unbreakable will and race to do their part and volunteer their services, and this culminates in a major social undertaking that not only displays the deep bonds that tie millions upon millions of Chinese people together, but also demonstrates the Chinese people’s spirit of standing together as one no matter what happens. For example, in the wake of the Wenchuan earthquake alone, donations of money and supplies in excess of 79 billion yuan were received, and numerous social organizations and volunteers rushed to the disaster zone to assist in the relief effort. The result of these efforts was the biggest donation and volunteer campaign to take place since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. These also represented a huge contribution to the effort to overcome the disaster.

China has also made efforts to introduce market mechanisms into disaster reduction and relief efforts. By adopting various means such as purchasing services, offering economic compensation, and providing finance, we have channeled quality resources into key areas such as the stockpiling of urgently needed relief supplies, the promotion of disaster reduction and response equipment, and the research and development of key technologies with regard to the prevention and reduction of natural disasters. In addition, we have made significant efforts with regard to the provision of insurance for rural housing, promoting effective coordination between government assistance, public donations, and insurance against natural disasters. With multiple channels to spread the risk that disasters pose, we have been able to raise the capacity of the society as a whole to withstand natural disasters.

III. Laying greater emphasis on the various needs of victims in disaster relief

In responding to major natural disasters, ensuring that victims are properly relocated and settled and that their basic needs are met represents a major priority. By adopting a series of measures such as refining storage and distribution systems for relief goods, improving assistance policies, expanding assistance schemes, raising assistance standards, and increasing the scope of eligibility for disaster relief, China has managed to establish sound links between emergency assistance, transitional assistance, and assistance in winter and spring seasons. These measures have proven effective in guaranteeing the basic needs of disaster victims, and have led to significant increases in our overall capacity to cope with natural disasters.

China has developed a basic dispatch system that allows for the rapid and efficient storage, dispatch, acceptance, release, and recovery of disaster relief goods. With this system, we are able to efficiently dispatch food, drinking water, tents, mobile homes, clothing, quilts and other goods that are desperately needed in disaster-stricken areas. Disaster victims are generally able to receive basic assistance within 24 hours of a natural disaster, and the provision of food, clothing, clean drinking water, temporary housing, and timely medical attention can be ensured. We have expanded assistance schemes to include transitional assistance, follow-up assistance, drought assistance, consolation funds for the families of victims, and assistance for orphans, elderly citizens without children, and the disabled. We have also included those who are stranded on highway and railway systems due to natural disasters in the scope of those entitled to receive assistance. At the same time, we have provided reassurance and psychological support to the victims of disasters. These efforts have ensured that assistance schemes are better able to meet the actual needs of disaster victims. In addition to the above, we have standardized the basic needs assistance that is provided to disaster victims during spring and winter, and set forth more detailed requirements with regard to the implementation of spring and winter assistance, which pertain to surveys and appraisals, the formulation of assistance plans, application for, arrangement, and issue of funds, supervision and management, and assessment and performance appraisals. We have also laid down more stringent procedures for the identification of those eligible for assistance, which consist of household application, appraisal at the village level, review at the township level, and final decision by county authorities. As a result, we can ensure that the basic needs of disaster victims during winter and spring can be properly looked after.

IV. Laying down stronger legal and scientific foundations for disaster response

The National People’s Congress has passed and promulgated the Law on Response to Emergencies. The State Council has formulated the National Master Plan for Rapid Response to Public Emergencies and the National Response Plan for Assistance Following Natural Disasters, which have provided standardized procedures for response to sudden natural disasters. In addition, the State Council has formulated the Provisions on Assistance Following Natural Disasters. This document has done the following: It has defined the rights and obligations of the government, society, and individuals with regard to assistance following natural disasters; it has laid down the principles for disaster assistance initiatives, which include putting people first, leadership by the government, management on a tiered basis, mutual aid, and self-rescue by disaster victims; it has established a disaster assistance system that links together rescue preparations, emergency assistance, post-disaster assistance, as well as recovery and reconstruction; and it has established and improved mechanisms to guarantee the provision of funds and supplies in line with the demands of disaster assistance. The State Council has also formulated Provisions on Recovery and Reconstruction After the Wenchuan Earthquake, the Overall Plan for Recovery and Reconstruction After the Wenchuan Earthquake, the Overall Plan for Recovery and Reconstruction After the Yushu Earthquake, and the Overall Plan for Recovery and Reconstruction Following the Zhugqu Disaster. By establishing the guiding principles of putting people first, respecting nature, making overall plans, and approaching reconstruction scientifically, these documents have provided a strong supporting foundation for the completion of reconstruction tasks in the disaster areas in question.

In addition, through close coordination and cooperation between the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Standardization Administration, a framework of disaster response systems that links the overall policies of the central government with the specific policies of government departments has been established. For instance, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has formulated regulations for disaster response initiatives, and has also issued documents on disaster assistance appraisals and data collection following natural disasters. The Standardization Administration has worked out Procedures for Sampling the Number of Collapsed (Damaged) Rural Houses in Disaster Areas. And the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Ministry of Finance have jointly formulated provisional measures on the management of basic needs assistance funds for the victims of natural disasters.

China has attached great significance to the active application of modern science and technology in its disaster reduction and relief initiatives. It has formulated and implemented a national program for the development of science and technology in disaster prevention and reduction, and achieved notable advances in the application of modern science and technology in disaster response by researching cutting edge technologies, updating technology and equipment, and strengthening the application of IT. These initiatives have boosted the transformation of China’s disaster management from the extensive, manually operated mode of the past to a mode which is more accurate and refined.

China has successfully launched a constellation of small satellites, codenamed A, B, and C, for the monitoring and forecasting of environmental conditions and natural disasters, and has also launched the Fengyun 3A and 2E satellites. On this basis, a basic satellite application system for the purpose of disaster reduction has been established. In addition, we have strengthened the application of advanced technologies such as satellite remote sensing, unmanned air planes, and the Beidou Navigation Satellite System in the field of disaster prevention and reduction, which has allowed us to enhance our capacity to monitor and give early warnings on major natural disasters, as well as our ability to support disaster response efforts on the ground. A number of scientific and technological projects pertaining to meteorology, seismology, geology and oceanology have been arranged and implemented under national scientific and technological projects, March 1986 High-Tech Program, and in the major projects of the State Natural Science Fund. The Ministry of Civil Affairs has organized and implemented a series of projects, such as research into the development and application of comprehensive risk assessment technologies for catastrophic disasters in Asia, as well as the development and demonstration of integrated information systems for emergency response to catastrophic disasters in China. By applying modern communications, computers, and information management technologies, we have established a national management system for natural disasters that covers the central, provincial, municipal, and county levels. These initiatives have allowed us to make notable advances in natural disaster information management.

V. Placing equal emphasis on disaster prevention and response

Under the backdrop of global climate change, we have seen a marked increase in the occurrence of natural disasters in China. In a bid to respond to the serious challenge that natural disasters present, China has established a basic disaster response framework that comprises of emergency command, rescue, assistance, recovery, and reconstruction. This has allowed China to raise its capacity with regard to emergency rescue, transportation guarantee, basic needs assistance, medical aid, hygiene and epidemic prevention. In addition, we have also essentially put in place a natural disaster management system for the reporting of disasters at the central, provincial, municipal and county levels, and conscientiously carried out activities such as emergency rescue, the emergency transfer and settlement of victims, the rescue and treatment of the wounded, hygiene and epidemic prevention, the urgent repair of damaged infrastructure, and the guaranteeing of funds and materials immediately after a disaster occurred. In the fight against major natural disasters, we have realized highly efficient operation across a range of initiatives, from the launch of emergency response efforts to the allocation and transport of disaster relief goods, from ensuring that basic needs in the disaster area can be met to providing reassurance for disaster victims, and from launching public donation and fundraising campaigns to organizing recovery and reconstruction. China has also compiled and implemented the National Plan for Comprehensive Disaster Reduction During the Eleventh Five-Year Plan Period and the Comprehensive National Plan for Disaster Prevention and Reduction (2011-2015), on the basis of which we have implemented major disaster prevention and rectification projects, enhanced our capacity to warn against typhoons in advance, and strengthened our monitoring and early warning capacity with regard to diseases and insect pests on agricultural and forest land as well as forest and prairie fires. We have set up central stockpiles of disaster relief supplies in 17 cities that serve as major transportation hubs. In addition, disaster relief supply stores (points) have been established in all provinces as well as in 92.7% of prefecture-level cities and 80% of counties. This has allowed us to form an initial disaster relief supply storage network on the central, provincial, municipal, and county levels. We have introduced a national “Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day,” and established 4,116 comprehensive disaster reduction communities for demonstration purposes. In addition, emergency and disaster shelters can be found throughout China’s urban and rural areas. These initiatives have effectively enhanced our overall capacity to guard against natural disasters and respond to natural disasters when they do occur.

With an open attitude towards cooperation, China has also established close cooperative partnerships with organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCSAP), the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.10, 2013)

Author: Deputy Director of the National Commission for Disaster Reduction and Minister of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China

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