Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Lessons Learned?

In Hong Kong we are watching the updates on the rescue efforts in Sichuan are going with almost 200 dead so far and scores injured.

It's frustrating to see and read news reports of how the roads are blocked, and China doesn't have suitable helicopters to carry heavy loads -- the ones they have are more for military use.

And then there are other stories of how some buildings that were rebuilt after the May 2008 earthquake were destroyed again and found to be built with shoddy materials.

Meanwhile residents in remote areas are complaining they still have not received any aid in the past four days and are fast running out of food and supplies.

Has the Chinese government not learned anything from the disaster almost five years on?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged the city will donate HK$100 million but pro-democracy lawmakers have vetoed the plan on the grounds that most of the HK$10 billion donation in 2008 was frittered away by Sichuan government officials and fear the same will happen again.

They would rather the money go directly to charity groups, but perhaps for diplomacy reasons Leung would like to donate to the government. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hoped the issue would not affect relations between Hong Kong and the mainland and hinted the pro-democracy camp was making a mountain of a molehill. She chided them for wanting some kind of accountability, saying the Sichuan government was not going to set up a special monitoring system just for the Hong Kong donation.

For the government it's a political gesture, but for those concerned, it's trying to make sure the money goes to the right place.

And they have every right to question where donations are going after the Chinese Red Cross had its reputation tarnished in 2011 when it was discovered a young woman who called herself Guo Mei posted online photos of herself with luxury handbags including Hermes. She claimed to be general manager of the China Red Cross commerce department.

There were also revelations that Red Cross officials held an extravagant banquet costing 10,000 RMB. As a result donations to the charity were down 60 percent that year.

The caution this time around will hit China hard, but in particular its victims.

One can't help but wonder if the Chinese government learned from what happened in 2008 and tried to come up with some better rescue strategies and protocol. Premier Li Keqiang continued Wen Jiabao's style of meeting victims and supposedly directing rescuers to save whoever they can -- and why would they not? Saying the obvious seems so redundant when more could be done with logistics.

We know Sichuan is prone to earthquakes, so the local and central governments should have had more supplies and perhaps more emergency stations in place. They should know where all the remote areas are and figure out the best ways to reach them because time is of the essence.

Relative to five years ago, the number of casualties is much smaller, but really the government should have had better emergency plans in place after 2008.

Everyone is going to be scrutinizing the local and central governments even more now and so they better be on their best behaviour...

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