China flood and oil spill response improves. Prevention? Not so much.
A China flood, oil spill, and chemical factory explosion highlighted the country's improved crisis response. But China still faces challenges as it tries to strike a balance between economic growth and protecting the environment.
(Page 2 of 2)
For example, he said, there had long been warnings about the oil storage arrangements in Dalian. And in Nanjing, residents had complained about the presence of the plastics factory in a dense urban area, according to web posts cited by Danwei.orgSkip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Yang said that the accidents also raise the issue of the effectiveness of China's environmental impact assessments. "The ministry of environmental protection may invoke these accidents and gain more clout," he said.
Of China's flood response Russell Leigh Moses wrote in the Wall Street Journal's "China Realtime Report" blog, that "responding to natural disasters appears to bring out some of the better qualities in the bureaucracy here," with mass mobilization and the deployment of troops.
"Focus and consensus come easier, and political infighting gets momentarily sidelined. Dissent and anxiety about the succession process gets placed below the waterline."
But he said the advance planning to fix the underlying problems that generate so many casualties in flooding – including shoddy construction and corrupt local officials -- isn't there yet. "The Party is playing catch-up and clean-up at the same time," Moses wrote.
China's massive oil spill cleanup
A similar dynamic is at work in the oil spill at China's port in Dalian. Yang Ailun, head of climate and energy for Greenpeace China, said in a phone interview that China had done a "good job" in quickly putting out fires from the pipeline explosion and cleaning up the spill.
"The main secret in getting it done so quickly and effectively is the cheap labor here," she said. "They basically hired about 20,000 fisherman and got them to help them clean up the oil. You would not have that in any other country. They worked 24 hours a day, in different shifts," with compensation based on how much oil they collected.
"They [Chinese officials] definitely learned lessons from the Sichuan earthquake and other disasters, so Sichuan had some positive legacy in this regard," she said.
Attention to long-term impact of disaster?
But she said Chinese officials now needed to pay more attention to the long-term impact of such disasters. And the rising number of such catastrophes points to deeply entrenched problems which only a shift in government priorities can change, said Yang.
"China is entering into this phase where you have very large scale disasters," Yang said. "The main reasons are long-term neglect, and fundamental flaws in our economic development model. It's been there for a while, but it has reached a point of explosion, where now you see accident after accident."
She cited out-of-date facilities, poor maintenance, and a failure to learn from past accidents as factors in the latest string of disasters. In the case of the Dalian oil spill, there were "some very apparent design flaws in the way they store oil, which led to the disaster," she said.
"There's a lot of measures they can take to prevent a lot of these situations," she said. "They [the Chinese government] should learn lessons. It's not enough just to focus on economic development, it's also important to ensure that the environment and safety are also high on the agenda."
- Blog: Oil-eating bacteria to the China oil spill rescue?
- China oil spill spreads but not as big as BP oil spill in Gulf
- Chinese eco-detective treads lightly