Wen Jiabao

Planning chief lauds success of disaster relief

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am

The mainland's top economic planning body touched only briefly yesterday on what lessons should be learned from the calamitous snowstorms of the past two months, preferring to dwell on the central government's disaster relief successes.

National Development and Reform Commission director Ma Kai told a press conference yesterday that Beijing's handling of the blizzards was prompt and effective.

He avoided a question about whether the disaster exposed a weakness in the government's emergency management.

'The sudden low temperatures, snowstorms and disastrous deep freeze were the worst in 50 years, or 100 years in some places,' Mr Ma said. 'Local residents all said it was the most serious since the places had begun keeping weather records. But the Chinese government's response to the sudden disaster was quick, timely and effective.'

Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday that lessons must be learned after the snowstorms claimed at least 129 lives, devastated 119,000 sq km of crops, collapsed 485,000 houses and resulted in 151.6 billion yuan (HK$166.3 billion) in direct economic losses.

Road, rail and air traffic was delayed, stranding tens of millions of passengers just before the Lunar New Year holiday. Power and water supplies were cut for weeks in several central provinces.

Mr Ma said weather forecasters had issued five warnings between December 10 and January 19, local governments had initiated emergency response systems, the central government had made sound decisions and top party leaders had gone to the front lines to direct relief work and visit residents.

He praised the speed with which services recovered, saying that 'from January 23 to March 2, we enabled 2 billion trips to be made via the road system and 196 million trips by train'.

'These are staggering figures. What other country can transport as many passengers in such a short period [as we did]?' he said.

Mr Ma said the snowstorms would not impair the mainland's economic growth because the disaster was regional and short-term.

'We've accumulated rich experience,' he said. 'But there are also some lessons. It shows we have some weak points in productivity distribution, industry management, etc. We will further improve the emergency response system.'

Critics in the media and internet chat rooms said the government should pay more attention to environmental protection, improve weather forecasting, take action more promptly and close gaps in government co-ordination and emergency response systems.

Few deputies and delegates from the rubber-stamp National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress have openly lambasted the government so far. But Hong Kong CPPCC delegates have reportedly drafted proposals calling for an analysis of the crisis.

And no calls, either from officials or from delegates to the two bodies, have been heard to punish any government agencies.

Railways Minister Liu Zhijun said on Wednesday that the snowstorms showed there was still not enough investment in the rail system. The ministry will spend 300 billion yuan on railway construction this year, according to Xinhua.