China to develop emergency response plans

A flurry of natural and man-made disasters has alerted China to the urgent need to be better prepared for human and environmental catastrophe.

Throughout 2005 the rapidly developing nation was plagued by large-scale industrial accidents as well as a number of natural disasters, from relatively low key mining accidents and small-scale spills to the headline-grabbing spread of bird flu and benzene pollution of the Songhua River.

According to officials figures these incidents claimed almost 2,500 lives, left well over 15 million people displaced, destroyed more than 2 million homes and cost the Chinese economy £14.5 billion.

The spate of accidents, epidemics and acts of God has set alarm bells ringing in Beijing and the State Council, China's cabinet, is now drawing up plans for a national emergency response system.

Each province, autonomous region and municipality will also be expected to create its own plan to deal with localised incidents.

The plans will draw on lessons learned from previous incidents and set up a clear hierarchy of priorities and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.

While this may appear to be a case of closing the door after the horse has bolted, the plan should help the authorities avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

According to state news agency Xinhua the plan will be 'based on lessons and experiences at home and abroad [and] increase the government's capability to protect public safety, deal with unexpected incidents, minimize the losses of the incidents, maintain social stability, and promote the harmonious and sustainable development of the country'.

Wang Angsheng, the director of the Academy of Sciences' disaster control committee is reported as telling the agency: "An accountable government should not only be able to cope with public affairs in normal conditions, but to respond promptly and calmly towards emergencies."

By Sam Bond



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