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Xinhua Insight: Disaster prevention key to economy of China's poor west

English.news.cn   2014-08-06 19:35:11

LUDIAN, Yunnan, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- For many farmers struck by Sunday's earthquake, the dream of one day escaping poverty has been crushed in the rubble of their homes.

Feng Zhonglu, a 52-year-old villager in the hardest-hit Longquan Village, is a father of four children. He lost his 21-year-old daughter Feng Fang after the earthquake collapsed the family's mud-brick home with his daughter sleeping inside.

"She was so young and still a college student," said Feng, wiping tears from his eyes.

Besides suffering from the pain of losing a daughter, Feng now worries about the future of his two teenage sons, who will be entering college soon.

"We kept six pigs and decided to sell them for tuition fees," he said. "But four were killed in the earthquake and the other two have run away."

Compounding his emotional and financial worries, the family is now homeless. Building a new home will cost at least 70,000 yuan (11,357.18 U. S. dollars), while their yearly income from farming peppers is only around 5,000 yuan.

Feng's despair is shared by many living in the poverty-stricken county, where the earthquake claimed nearly 600 lives. A majority of the farmers living in Ludian survive on less than one dollar per day.

Prior to the earthquake, there was optimism among the area's local farmers as plans to plant peppers, pecans and apples in the barely arable mountain region was proving to be a success.

"The income of farmers had been increasing, but the earthquake has caused a great economic loss for the county. It will undoubtedly worsen the economic situation of the farmers in the near future," said Yuan Jiang, deputy head of the county.

The problem faced by farmers in Ludian is one shared for most of China's underdeveloped western interior, where the poor live at the mercy of natural disasters.

With regular seismic activity, complex topography and frequent rainstorms, the region is prone to the worst of nature.

Most of these areas exist in a vicious cycle, where poverty has lowered their capacity to endure and prevent natural disasters and the destruction brought on by the disasters further worsens the economic situation.

"Huge natural disasters not only damage the livelihood of the individuals, but also destroy the public facilities and undermine the local economy," said Zhang Meichuan, scholar of sociology in Yunnan University.

"The government poverty relief efforts can turn vain overnight after a devastating natural disaster."

In recent years, there has been a slow shift in the Chinese economy, with surging labor costs and pollution in east China making the west a preferable alternative for industry.

This has made the development of west China a crucial component of the country's future economy and the government has placed poverty alleviation for the west high on its agenda.

Experts suggest focusing on disaster prevention can help improve the efficiency of poverty-relief projects in the area.

"We should make more prevention efforts and establish long-term mechanisms for disaster education, earthquake-resistant housing and emergency response," Zhang said, suggesting China can learn from Japan in earthquake prevention.

"The prevention and reduction of disasters should become an integral part of the poverty-relief programs in the poor areas."

Jiang Hong, head of the public policy research center at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, says government on all levels should further improve the financial safeguards, providing prompt and effective assistance to the disaster-hit areas.

"Commercial disaster insurance should also be developed in order to reduce the economic loss brought about by the natural disasters," he said.

Jiang also believes the government should improve its supervision over housing construction in disaster-prone areas, setting strict construction standards.

According to a national plan aiming to improve earthquake defense, the Chinese government vowed to make buildings in most urban areas resistant to 6.0 magnitude earthquakes.

"But in Yunnan, especially in remote areas, most infrastructure facilities and residential buildings are not resistant to earthquakes," said Zhang Junwei, director of earthquake prevention office, Yunnan Earthquake Administration.

"Hopefully, the central government will give more policy support to the poor areas in west China and help improve the earthquake resistance capacity of the infrastructure and residential houses in western rural areas," he said.

Editor: Mengjie
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