Dreams of most liveable city go down the drain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am


Two years ago, Guo Jinlong, who recently stepped down as Beijing mayor following his promotion as the municipality's party chief, basked in praise when he vowed to ensure the capital would become a 'most livable' world-class metropolis in the next decade.

Beijingers have since been regularly bombarded with propaganda as senior city officials put forward their ideas on how the capital can become a 'world city' on a par with the likes of Hong Kong, which has embarked on a spree of infrastructure construction.

But such high hopes - as well as a faith in money's power - have again been cast into doubt by a torrential downpour over the weekend that quickly became one of the deadliest disasters the capital has ever seen. Saturday's rainstorm, which effectively paralysed the city of 20 million and killed at least 37 people, also gave rise to a long list of questions.

While we have seen infrastructure failures, such as inundated low-lying areas along major roads and ineffective sewage systems, more questions have been raised about human error and the government's competence in coping with the disaster.

Most people, it seems, have been asking: have government officials done their jobs?

The rainstorm was correctly forecast on Friday, but the much-hyped early warning system seemed to have failed completely before and during the first few hours of the downpour. The rain did not let up until early Sunday morning.

Although meteorologists issued an orange alert - the second-highest national rainstorm warning - early on Saturday evening through radio and television, the message failed to get through.

The government could have sent out a text message to mobile phone users warning of the unfolding disaster. That might have helped reduce the chaos on the roads and even saved lives.

Villagers in Fangshan, the district worst hit by the rainstorm, complained they had not been informed of the situation beforehand and of the need to evacuate.

The city's meteorological officials said a text message wasn't possible. 'We are not technically capable of sending out warning messages via mobiles,' said a deputy head of the city's weather bureau. But telecommunication companies including Beijing Unicom and Beijing Mobile were quick to refute that assertion and said they had no problems at all in broadcasting such warnings.

Many Beijing residents clearly remember receiving text messages over the past few years from the municipal government's press office and public security authorities during the Lunar New Year, warning them about safety hazards with firecrackers.

If the early warning system did work as officials claimed hours after the downpour hit, why were mass gatherings of people, such as a Super League football match at the Worker's Stadium, not called off?

Highway authorities failed to close a national highway linking the capital to Shijiazhuang , several hundred kilometres to the southwest, where at least three people were killed.

Dozens of cars and buses were stranded or even submerged at a section of the road near Fangshan district.

More than 500 flights were cancelled or delayed and more than 80,000 people were stranded at Beijing Capital International Airport at the height of the disaster.

Many passengers asked why airlines and airport authorities failed to advise them not to travel to the airport.

Many people also lamented the drowning of a driver in one of the most notorious low-lying areas near Guangqumen on the second ring road on Saturday night.

'Why can't the authorities at least put up a warning sign near Guangqumen about the danger of flooding during rainstorms?' was a idea many microbloggers repeated.

Although Beijing's deadliest rainstorm in six decades receded four days ago, none of these questions has been answered.