President vows to correct failings in typhoon relief response
Central News Agency
2009-08-18 08:07 PM
Taipei, Aug. 18 (CNA) Facing criticisms from home and abroad that his administration's rescue and relief efforts were slow and flawed, President Ma Ying-jeou vowed Tuesday to improve his performance and lead the country into recovery from the disaster caused last week by Typhoon Morakot.

Ma made the remarks at a news conference at the Presidential Office amid falling approval ratings driven by his government's response in the aftermath of massive flooding and landslides triggered by the storm, particularly in Tainan, Chiayi, Kaohsiung and Pingtung and Taitung counties in the south.

He said that a disaster prevention and rescue agency will be established to replace the National Fire Agency, which is in charge of rescue operations in the country, and that the government will spend US$300 million to purchase rescue helicopters.

According to the president, the money will come from the budget originally earmarked for the purchase of 60 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States.

"The government has now decided to buy 45 Black Hawks instead, and the US$300 million left over will be used to purchase rescue helicopters and equipment to better meet Taiwan's needs," he said.

Replying to a question on the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle, Ma said that his administration will seek to identify the mistakes made and that, based on an agreement between him and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan, any decisions pertaining to personnel will be made in two weeks.

As part of the government's plan to improve its rescue capability, disaster prevention will be included as one of the priority missions of the military, he added.

"In the future, the disaster prevention concept must be integrated into the nation's overall military strategy, military approach, military personnel deployment, as well as its budget allocation and equipment and machinery installation, " the president said.

In addition, disaster prevention units will be set up in all local governments, he said.

Asked whether the government will force an evacuation if a similar disaster should threaten, Ma replied in the affirmative and stressed that standard operation procedures must be established to deal with any similar situations.

"We will face up to and delve into the evacuation issue, despite predictable difficulties due to the fact that some villagers will never be willing to leave their homes in the mountains." he said.

"A homeland safety law is being crafted to serve that end.

Villagers must be transported to safety early, in the event of similar flooding or disasters," the president said.

Aboriginal townships and settlements in Chiayi, Kaohsiung, Pintung and Taitung were the worst hit by Typhoon Morakot, with many of them cut off as mountain roads and bridges collapsed during the storm which battered the island Aug. 6-10.

Over 100 people have been killed and some 600 are reported missing in the typhoon, including close to 500 believed to have been buried under mudslides in Siaolin village. Most of the dead were indigenous people from mountain settlements.

Ma said that in view of the high death toll among aborigines and in an effort to honor his campaign promise to build a safe homeland for them, his government will allocate NT$50 billion over the next four years to mudslide prevention.

"The Council for Economic Planning and Development has already budgeted NT$12.6 billion for that purpose," he said.

Commenting on the government's plans for rehabilitation and reconstruction in the aftermath of the storm, Ma said it will need some NT$110 billion to fund such projects in the devastated areas of southern Taiwan.

The government has appropriated NT$40 billion from its special budgets and the remaining NT$70 billion will be obtained through public borrowing, Ma said.

Although agricultural and farm losses from Morakot have exceeded NT$12.2 billion, Ma said "Taiwan's economy would be only slightly affected, but its Q3 economic growth rate would become negative." In light of the devastation wrought by the storm and the magnitude of the work ahead, the president said, he has canceled a planned trip to the South Pacific for a summit with leaders of Taiwan allies in that region in October.

He also announced a cancellation of National Day celebrations that are usually held annually on October 10.

(By Flor Wang)

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