In recent years, natural disasters happened frequently around the world and have caused enormous losses of life and property to human society. They pose a common challenge to all the countries in the world.
China suffers the most natural disasters of all countries. Along with global climate changes and its own economic takeoff and progress in urbanization, China suffers increasing pressure on resources, environment and ecology. The situation in the prevention of and response to natural disasters has become more serious and complicated.
Always placing people first, the Chinese Government has all along put the security of people's lives and property on the top of its work, and has listed the disaster prevention and reduction in its economic and social development plan as an important guarantee of sustainable development. In recent years, China has been comprehensively implementing the Scientific Outlook on Development, further strengthened legislation as well as the building of systems and mechanisms on disaster prevention and reduction, committed to building on disaster-prevention capacities, encouraged public contribution, and actively participated in international cooperation in this respect.
The devastating Wenchuan earthquake, which occurred on May 12, 2008, caused massive human casualties and property losses, and caused immeasurable sufferings to the Chinese people. In the wake of the disaster, the Chinese Government decided to make May 12 "Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day," starting in 2009. This document has been written to mark the one year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake and greet China's first "Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day," with a review of the endeavors the Chinese Government and people have made in disaster prevention and reduction.
I. Natural Disasters in China
The natural disasters that China suffers from most have the following characteristics:
1. Diverse types. They include meteorological disasters, earthquakes, geological disasters, marine disasters, biological disasters, and forest and grassland fires. Except for modern volcanic activity, China has suffered from most types of natural disasters.
2. Wide scope of distribution. Natural disasters cause damages in different degrees to all of China's provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government). More than 70 percent of Chinese cities and more than 50 percent of the Chinese population are located in areas vulnerable to serious earthquakes, or meteorological, geological or marine disasters. Two-thirds of China's land is threatened by floods. Tropical cyclones often batter the eastern and southern coasts, and some inland places. Droughts often occur in the northeast, northwest and north, with particularly serious ones common in southwest and south China. Destructive earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 or more on the Richter Scale have struck all the country's provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities). The mountainous and plateau areas, accounting for 69 percent of China's total land territory, suffer frequent landslides, mud-rock flows and cliff collapses due to complicated geological conditions.
3. High frequency. Its monsoon climate has a strong impact on China, and causes frequent meteorological disasters. Local or regional droughts occur almost every year, while tropical cyclones, seven times a year on average, battering the east coast. As China lies right in the region where the Eurasian, Pacific and Indian Ocean plates meet, it suffers from frequent earthquakes due to still-active tectonic movements. Most of the quakes shaking China are continental, accounting for one-third of global destructive land quakes. Fires often break out in forests and on grasslands.
4. Huge losses. During the 19 years from 1990 to 2008, on annual average, natural disasters affected about 300 million people, destroyed more than 3 million buildings, and forced the evacuation of more than 9 million people. The direct financial losses caused exceeded 200 billion yuan. Floods in the Yangtze, Songhua and Nenjiang river valleys in 1998, serious droughts in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality in 2006, devastating floods in the Huaihe River valley in 2007, extreme cold weather and sleet in south China in early 2008, and the earthquake that shook Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi and other places on May 12, 2008, all caused tremendous losses.
Now and for a fairly long time to come, the risks of extreme weather phenomena are increasing along with global climate changes. Owing to imbalanced distribution of precipitation, unusual temperature changes and other factors, the occurrences of floods and droughts, hot weather and heat waves, low-temperature rain, snow and sleet, forest and grassland fires, and plant diseases and insect and animal pests may grow in number. The probability of strong and extra-strong typhoons, tempests and other disasters is quite high. The tasks of guarding against and preventing such geological disasters as mountain torrents, landsides and mud-rock flows brought about by heavy rains remain weighty. In addition, as a result of the earth's crustal movements, the danger of earthquakes is increasing.
II. Strategic Goals and Tasks for Disaster Reduction
In the National 11th Five-year Plan on Comprehensive Disaster Reduction and other documents issued in recent years, the Chinese Government has made clear its medium- and long-term strategic goals during the 11th Five-year Plan period (2006-2010) and the ensuing years: to build a relatively complete working system and operational mechanisms regarding disaster reduction; to greatly enhance the capabilities related to disaster monitoring and early warning, prevention and preparation, emergency handling, disaster relief, and rehabilitation and reconstruction; to notably raise public awareness of disaster reduction and emergency rescue skills; and to significantly reduce human casualties and direct economic losses caused by natural disasters.
The main tasks are as follows:
—To strengthen capability in management over hidden risks of natural disasters and relevant information. Based on a general survey of hidden risks of major natural disasters in key areas, and the overall prevention and reduction capabilities of the nation, China will build a database of the risks of natural disasters, and draw up a national diagram of the situations in high-risk and key areas. It will also build a system for collecting statistics about disasters and the damage inflicted, and a reporting system covering the national, provincial, municipal and county levels. It will improve the mechanisms of prompt news release, check on disaster damage, and the work on information exchange, consultation and announcement. A platform for the sharing and releasing of disaster information will be established, and the analysis, appraisal and application of disaster information be reinforced.
—To strengthen capability in the monitoring, early warning and forecasting of natural disasters. While improving the existing monitoring network, China will increase the monitoring density and launch a satellite remote-sensing monitoring system, thus building a three-dimensional monitoring platform for natural disasters. It will promote the comprehensive utilization and integrated development of monitoring and early warning infrastructures, and improve the supporting systems in the field of disaster warning, forecasting and decision-making. Particular efforts will be made to strengthen the capability of monitoring, early warning and forecasting extreme weather and serious frequently-occurred disasters. A mechanism to issue disaster risk warnings will be put in place using various channels of communication to accurately and promptly release disaster information.
—To strengthen overall capability to prevent and combat natural disasters. Efforts will be made to carry out various plans concerning disaster prevention and reduction, construct pillar projects, and raise the disaster combat capabilities of large and medium-sized industrial bases, transportation trunk lines, communication hubs and lifeline projects. In line with the national land utilization plan and principle of economical and intensive use of land, the government will make an overall plan in respect of disaster reduction concerning agriculture and rural areas, industry and urban areas, as well as specialized disaster prevention and reduction plans and construction of relevant projects in key areas, so as to enhance the country's overall disaster-prevention capacity in all aspects.
—To strengthen the state capacity for emergency rescue and relief work. A coordinated and efficient disaster emergency management system will be built, characterized by unified command, sound coordination, clear division of work, and level-by-level control with local authorities playing the main role. This will form, by and large, an emergency relief system covering all aspects. The construction of disaster combat and relief materials reserve network, at central and local levels, will be strengthened; the transportation capacity of relief materials will be raised; various backbone or professional rescue contingents will be consolidated; and disaster reduction and relief equipment will be improved. Social mobilization mechanisms are to be improved to give full play to the functions of non-governmental organizations and organizations at the grassroots level as well as volunteers in the sphere of disaster relief.
—To strengthen capability in consolidating flood control in various river valleys. Adhering to the principles of overall planning, sound coordination and comprehensive solution of both root causes and symptoms, a complete flood control and disaster prevention system will be built to guarantee the safety of river valleys. The system will take embankment construction as the basis, backed up by key water control projects on mainstreams and tributaries, flood storage areas and dredged watercourses, as well as levees, lakeside lands returned from farming to water, and water and soil conservation efforts, in addition to non-project measures such as flood and drought control command systems, coordination measures and flood risk management.
—To strengthen capability in comprehensive response to disastrous calamities. By studying the mechanism of occurrence and law of activity of disastrous calamities, and their relations with secondary disasters, China will conduct simulation experiments of massive disaster variations and emergency responses to disastrous calamities. It will build and improve relevant systems and mechanisms, work out policies and emergency response plans against disastrous calamities, and conduct drills to combat them. It will also spread pilot insurance schemes in agriculture and forestry, and introduce, based on national conditions, insurance and re-insurance against devastating disasters. It will strengthen efforts in the construction of projects against huge disasters, and establish an Asian regional disaster research center.
—To strengthen urban and rural community capability in coping with disasters. China will improve the emergency response plans for urban and rural communities, and train the residents against such dangers. Urban and rural emergency facilities will be improved, and model communities will be established throughout the country. Housing safety projects in both rural and urban areas will be built. Shelters will be built where disasters are prone to occur. Community disaster reporters will be nominated, urban and rural residents will be educated to prevent and deal with disasters, and a mechanism to protect disadvantaged community groups will be built.
—To strengthen the scientific and technological support capability in the fields of disaster prevention and reduction. China will fortify the research and development of key technologies, and study and work out national medium- and long-term strategies for scientific and technological development in coping with natural disasters. It will quicken the application of remote-sensing, geographical information system, global positioning system, and network communication technologies. It will invest more funds in scientific and technological development against disasters, support the construction of relevant disciplines and the fostering of skilled people, and build personnel training bases. It will also introduce relevant technological standards, and standardize disaster prevention and reduction operations.
—To strengthen capability in scientific publicity and education concerning disaster reduction. China will heighten the sense of duty of local governments at various levels in disaster reduction. Knowledge related to disaster reduction will be incorporated in school textbooks, and provided to rural residents through activities to bring cultural, scientific, medical services to the rural areas. General or specialized education concerning disaster reduction will be encouraged, and relevant education bases built. A national network platform spreading disaster reduction knowledge will be launched. Popular science books, wall charts and audio-visual products will be published and produced, local experiences in disaster prevention and reduction be publicized, and public awareness and skills raised.
III. Construction of a Legal Framework, Institutional Setup and Working Mechanism Related to Disaster Reduction
China attaches great importance to legislation regarding disaster prevention and reduction and has enacted a number of laws and regulations in this regard, thus gradually institutionalizing disaster reduction efforts. Since the early 1980s, the state has promulgated more than 30 laws and regulations concerning disaster prevention and reduction, including the Emergency Response Law of the People's Republic of China, Law of the People's Republic of China on Water and Soil Conservation, Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection Against and Mitigation of Earthquake Disasters, Water Law of the People's Republic of China, Flood Control Law of the People's Republic of China, Law of the People's Republic of China on Desertification Prevention and Transformation, Meteorology Law of the People's Republic of China, Forestry Law of the People's Republic of China, Grassland Law of the People's Republic of China, Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Pollution from Environmental Noise, Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution from Solid Waste, Marine Environment Protection Law of the People's Republic of China, Fire Control Law of the People's Republic of China, Drought Control Regulations of the People's Republic of China, Hydrology Regulations of the People's Republic of China, Flood Control Regulations of the People's Republic of China, Forest Fire Control Regulations of the People's Republic of China, Grassland Fire Control Regulations of the People's Republic of China, Regulations on Handling Major Animal Epidemic Emergencies, Regulations on the Prevention and Control of Forest Plant Diseases and Insect Pests, Regulations on the Prevention and Control of Geological Disasters, Regulations on the Handling of Destructive Earthquake Emergencies, Regulations on the Administration of Security of Reservoirs and Dams, and Regulations on the Administration of Weather Modification. The state will continue its efforts in the field of legislation as concerns disaster prevention and reduction as the need arises.