Before the rains came, Taiwan had been suffering its worst drought in seven years. After an unrelenting three-day deluge the island experienced its worst flooding in at least 50 years. Bridges collapsed, roads were washed away, houses were damaged by water a storey high and mountain villages levelled by mudslides. Typhoon Morakot has caused damage and casualties on a scale no one would have thought possible. The question foremost in the minds of many islanders is: who is to blame? Record rainfall, poor water and soil conservation, the absence of a proper disaster prevention system and villagers' reluctance to evacuate have been identified as contributing factors to one of the island's worst disasters. The performance of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's government has been strongly criticised, and political analysts say it could even cost him re-election in 2012. Morakot, a mid-strength typhoon, was originally expected to bring much-needed rain late last week. When it approached Taiwan on August 6, the Central Weather Bureau forecast maximum rainfall of 80cm in southern Taiwan. When the edge of the typhoon touched the eastern county of Hualien on August 7, weathermen revised the forecast to one metre and, the following day, warned it could exceed two metres. The day after that, August 9, the rainfall in some southern counties topped 2.7 metres, beating the record 2.2 metres which fell - coincidentally - on August 7, 1959. Weathermen said a year's rain had fallen in three days. That day, a grim-faced Mr Ma questioned the accuracy of the weather bureau's forecasts and asked what the National Resources Agency had done with its NT$10 million (HK$2.36 million) annual budget for water and soil conservation. Lee Hung-yuan, who studies water and soil conservation, said that while the record rainfall was the prime cause of the disaster, mistakes in land use and the absence of a comprehensive disaster response mechanism were the biggest problems. Typhoons had triggered slides of mud and rock 'quite often' since a big earthquake 10 years ago that 'shook loose the land' and changed the courses of rivers, causing unforeseen wear-and-tear corrosion to roads and bridges, he said. He said that while the government had stepped up repairs to roads and bridges and rebuilt structures that collapsed, it had not noticed the seriousness of the problem. Worse still, it had not heeded the misuse of land resources. These included cutting down trees, building resorts in the mountains and extracting gravel from river beds. He said there was a dire need for an effective anti-disaster mechanism. This should include smooth communication systems, forced evacuations of areas at risk and efficient co-ordination between central and local authorities. Taiwan's disaster prevention centre is only activated when disasters strike. 'I have suggested that the central government set up a cabinet-level disaster prevention agency to command and co-ordinate public and private efforts in dealing with disasters, but apparently nobody really took note of the importance of such an agency,' the professor said. Another water expert, Huang Huang-hui, vice-president of National Chengkung University, said the government should act swiftly to force evacuations if the need arose. He criticised the government for lacking a full picture of what needed doing most urgently in the wake of the storm. One of the big criticisms of the Ma government was its failure to force villagers to evacuate their homes even after agricultural authorities had warned of mudslides. Mr Ma said his government had asked residents to evacuate, but they had refused. Officials blamed each other for the failings of the emergency response. Interior Minister Liao Liao-yi complained that Pingtung county magistrate Tsai Chi-hung had been 'a little too slow' in reporting to the disaster centre the flood situation there and what help was needed. Mr Tsai retorted that he had done just that three hours before the minister made his comments. Mr Ma had to personally call the heads of local governments not affected by the flooding to ask them to provide manpower and facilities to help storm victims. 'The only way for President Ma to understand the situation of the survivors is for the Presidential Office to be flooded,' Mr Huang said.