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September 18, 2009

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Mass relocations take precedence in Taiwan

THE Taiwan government is pressing for unprecedented mass relocations to head off any new criticism for lack of preparedness after being under fire for its slow response to last month's typhoon.

Taiwan authorities aim to relocate 60 unsafe communities to avoid future storm damage, a disaster official said yesterday.

Typhoon Morakot killed as many as 770 people.

The 60 southern Taiwan communities of several dozen to more than 1,000 households will be asked to move to new ground to avoid the sort of landslides that buried parts of villages following Morakot from August 7 to 9, said Chern Jenn-chuan, deputy head of the Public Construction Commission.

Relocation will start with about 4,000 left homeless.

"Otherwise, the next time a typhoon comes along, the government will bear responsibility," Chern told Reuters in an interview. "A lot of people want this done pretty fast."

Taiwan's population, the world's 15th densest, had pushed too far into the mountains and built too intensively, said Chen Hung-yu, a Taiwan University geoscience professor.

Taiwan had found an extra NT$30 billion (US$926 million) from the annual government budget to help with relief work following its worst storm in 50 years, Chern said. That figure brings the total disaster relief budget to NT$150 billion.

Authorities cannot force villagers to move and have not set a relocation timetable, Chern said.

The government expects to win widespread support by offering jobs, free quality homes and the resettlement of entire villages, including trademarks of the Taiwan aboriginal culture that dominates much of the disaster-prone mountains.

One Taiwan high-tech firm will introduce organic agriculture in resettled communities with a pledge to raise previous household income by an average of 15 percent.


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