Friday, August 14, 2009

Typhoon Morakot and local response in Taiwan

As the aftermath of the Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan emerges, I am thinking of our friend, Kent who lives there. We received an email from him last week. That was just before the storm. I reckon power may be out and given the carnage, very little else may be working communication wise. The paralyzing nature of these tropical storms is highlighted. I am not sure how well the nation-wide disaster preparation activities worked but what emerges is the impact of the local response to the approach of the disaster trigger.

Surprising to the early responders are the number of people found alive in some of these remote village swept and buried by mudslides, triggered by the storm. Local people appeared to have been well aware of the vulnerabilities and evacuated themselves ahead of the storm. Whether this was a knowledge of the local dialects or the result of experiences with similar storms in the past, the response appeared to be appropriate but came as a surprise. Empowering local people and awareness of local vulnerabilities are probably more effective in disaster response, the centralized control. The use of local authorities in Dominica to organize and respond to disasters is the result of chronic exposure to disasters and learning from experience where to focus disaster activities.

The site of hotel collapsing on the edge of torrent of water and silt is another reminder of the importance of local action on the approach of a storm. Learning that the entire hotel had been evacuated before the collapse is astounding. It would be interesting to learn how that was done, what were the sign or circumstances that indicated they needed to do that and where did the move the people to and what were their reactions to what happened to that hotel in light of their decisions to evacuate would be instructive in future.

The impact of the typhoons on the infrastructure is spectacular and shows that the combined forces of wind and water and trigger the collapse of social and cultural protection and put lives and property at risk. Kudos to those who had the presence of mind to take action and saves lives.

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