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China launches campaign to counter disasters on quake anniversary

CHINA needs stronger steps to promote public preparedness and early warning systems for natural disasters, experts said ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake.

The government will release its first white paper on disaster prevention and reduction on May 12, the country's first national disaster prevention day. The day is set to commemorate the Sichuan earthquake last May which left more than 80,000 people dead and missing in southwest China.

To make the day, governments across the country have started education campaigns to publicize knowledge on disaster prevention and emergency rescue.

In Sichuan Province, the government is distributing books and handouts on construction guidelines, evacuation plans, landslide prevention and control of the pests after disasters.

"The earthquake showed we were ill-prepared for potential hazards," said Wang Qizhang, deputy director of Sichuan government secretariat. "We found many people did not know how to react to the earthquake and perform proper first aid.

"We must learn from the lesson and enhance public awareness and abilities of self-protection."

The Shanghai government would focus on evacuation exercises around the May 12 in a campaign to prepare thousands of students for fires, quakes and typhoons, said Liu Nanshan, head of the city's emergency agency.

"The central government has been urging us to strengthen training on disaster prevention in schools, but it won't be effective unless the science and knowledge are included in school courses," said Wang Jiexiu, deputy director of the National Disaster Reduction Center of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Disasters experts and officials also called for building a nationwide information network to mobilize the public to monitor and report potential disasters to local governments.

"Some devastation is avoidable. An effective public monitoring and early warning system to alert people to risks from droughts, floods, and earthquakes could save many lives," Wang said.

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) would train 1 million meteorologists in rural areas within five years to ensure every village has the information needed to combat increasingly devastating weather events, said Xu Xiaofeng, CMA vice director.

Their responsibilities included publicizing meteorological knowledge, maintaining facilities and participating in drafting emergency plans in villages.

Departments of civil affairs, forestry, land and resources are also building public information networks. The Ministry of Land and Resources has set up public monitoring systems in more than 120,000 places with potential geological hazards.

But experts said a lack of coordination among departments sometimes diminished efficiency.

"We hope the central government can build an integrated information network so that every staff member can help monitor disasters," said Ma Zongjin, an academician of China Academy of Sciences. "The government needs to invest more to ensure the income of these staff in rural areas."

China's top-down mobilization system coordinates resources to increase efficiencies in rescue and reconstruction. The model could also be adopted in coordinating the public and ministries in monitoring and early warning, Ma said.

China is among countries most plagued by natural disasters, with 70 percent of its cities and 50 percent of its 1.3 billion people living in areas vulnerable to one or more kinds of natural disasters.

China has suffered major natural calamities, including torrential floods in the Yangtze River valley in 1998, severe droughts in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality in 2006, winter storms in southern China early last year, and the massive may 12 earthquake.

The United Nations said natural disasters caused nearly US$110 billion of damage in China last year.


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