China improves rural disaster readiness

BEIJING – China will strengthen the system it uses to mitigate the harm caused by rural disasters and to issue early warnings about impending danger.

A senior officials said those changes are coming because places in the countryside are still often hit hard by disasters.

“The establishment of a comprehensive system for preventing and forecasting natural disasters in rural areas will be on top of the government’s agenda,” Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Metrological Administration, said at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office on Wednesday.

He said people living in vast rural regions are more vulnerable to natural disasters because they lack the equipment and knowledge needed to cope effectively with such hardships.

From January to June, natural disasters harmed about 290 million people in China, killing 449 of them, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Zheng said about 90 percent of the victims of lightning strikes are from the countryside.

Lightning killed about 15 people in 21 of China’s provinces and autonomous regions from June 1 to June 25.

“By building protection towers and pavilions, where farmers can seek shelter during thunderstorms, the number of deaths caused by lightning strikes has been dramatically reduced in 2010 by about 60 percent below what it was in 2007,” Zheng said.

In 2007, about 744 people in China died from lightning strikes and 585 others were injured. Those numbers meant lightning was the third most deadly natural disaster that could occur in the country, following floods and mudslides in that regard, Xinhua News Agency reported.

As part of the new plan for disaster response, more than 22,000 weather service stations have been built in China and 437,000 rural weather messengers disseminate disaster warnings to rural residents. They now provide service to nearly 85 percent of the country’s rural regions, according to statistics from the administration.

Even with these changes aimed at preventing disasters in the countryside, Zheng said China won’t be able to adequately guarantee public safety and prevent serious economic losses without having a more efficient way to issue early warnings.

According to a document released in July by the central government, China, by the end of 2015, will be able to release warnings from 15 minutes to 30 minutes in advance of most bad storms and will be able to reach 90 percent of the population using early warnings.

Zheng said the chief barrier to putting such information out even faster lies in the complicated process by which such alerts are approved. He said at least 20 minutes are needed to promulgate early warnings through mobile phones.

Zheng said the government will establish a fast track for approving the release of disaster alerts and that system will be used at times when extremely bad weather seems to be impending. He said authorities must also work to coordinate the various means of transport and communication used in disaster responses.

Zheng noted that if someone were to now send text messages at once to the 8 million people who use mobile phones in Beijing, the messages would take eight hours to arrive.

Source: China Daily

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