Past natural disaster tolls will remain in the past
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Declassification of death figures won't give insight into Great Famine: official
Beijing will not revise or offer new information about death tolls from past natural disasters despite no longer considering the numbers state secrets, a senior official said yesterday.
The announcement last week the figures were now declassified sparked hope the central government might finally disclose the number of people who died in the Great Famine, from 1959-61. But Vice-Minister of Civil Affairs Jia Zhibang said that was not on the agenda.
'As for the figures of natural disasters in the past, we will not make any revision,' Mr Jia said. 'Some of these have not been publicised, while some have.
'For example, the death toll from the Tangshan earthquake was released by the People's Daily in 1979. As for the figures for the three years of natural disasters, we don't have the information, and we won't revise or publicise them.'
Mr Jia said the step to declassify was taken to better manage future calamnities, in the hopes of alerting the public about the need for preventative measures and to better co-ordinate relief efforts.
'It is for disaster-relief work in the future,' he said. 'Not just for government doing the relief work, but to let the public know what measures we have taken and to pay attention [to the relief effort].
'As for the past figures - first, there is no need to revise them, and second, we have already publicised what should be publicised. From now on, we will announce the death toll of every natural disaster.'
The central government has always denied human error played any part in the Great Famine and refers to it as 'three years of natural disasters'. A report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences put the death toll at 15 million, but some scholars estimate it could have reached 80 million.
The national death toll from natural calamities this year, up to Tuesday, stood at 1,630, Mr Jia said.
In that period, 13.35 million people were displaced and 1.45 million houses destroyed by natural disasters including floods, droughts, typhoons and hailstorms, with total economic losses estimated at 163 billion yuan.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Ministry of Civil Affairs' disaster and social relief department, Wang Zhenyao, said the ministry was holding talks with the Ministry of Finance and State Administration of Taxation about tax breaks on donations to charities.
At present, only donations to several large charity organisations with close relations with the government qualify for tax breaks. However, few donors enjoy the tax relief because the application procedures are complicated.
Mr Wang said the ministry hoped to allow all charity organisations to have an equal footing when it came to tax relief. But Mr Jia said it was too early to say if donations to foreign organisations operating in China would enjoy tax breaks.