Aug 17, 2009

Taiwan: Aid Trickles In

Active ImagePresident apologizes for slow response to typhoon, faces pressure on China program



Below is an article published by The Wall Street Journal:

International aid started trickling into Taiwan on Sunday [August 16, 2009], a week after the worst typhoon in half a century killed hundreds of people in mountain villages. But the domestic political fallout has intensified as President Ma Ying-jeou faces growing criticism over his handling of the disaster.

Thousands of villagers were stranded in the open for days after their homes were destroyed by floods and mudslides. The official death toll stood at 124 on Sunday [August 16, 2009], with 62 confirmed missing, according to the National Fire Agency. However, some 400 others are thought to be missing from just one village -- Shiao Lin -- that was obliterated Aug. 9 after a nearby mountainside gave way.

On Saturday [August 15, 2009], Mr. Ma offered an apology to try to calm widespread anger among politicians in his own Kuomintang Party as well as newspapers normally friendly to the president. "We could have done it better and faster, but we did not do it better, faster. We are sorry," Mr. Ma said, speaking on a visit to Nantou County in central Taiwan.

The usually pro-government China Times newspaper compared Mr. Ma's performance with that of former U.S. President George W. Bush, who was widely criticized over his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"As a head of state, President Ma doesn't know how to exercise his authority," the newspaper said in an editorial . "He probably forgot that President George Bush was the one left with a negative reputation from Hurricane Katrina."

The head of the government's emergency operation, Mao Chi-kuo, defended the handling of the disaster. " I don't think the government has responded to the disaster slowly," he told a news conference Sunday. "I thought all of the local governments properly monitored the typhoon when I visited them last weekend." Mr. Mao said 3,000 villagers had been airlifted over the weekend, leaving about 1,000 still stranded. In all, 35,000 villagers have been rescued.

Mr. Ma, elected in March 2008 on a platform of closer economic integration with mainland China, is running into stiff opposition from those who worry he is sacrificing the island's autonomy. The two sides have been technically at war since the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists.

Analysts said the typhoon controversy is damaging Mr. Ma's authority just when he needs support from the public and the legislature.

The government initially declined to ask for foreign aid, but reversed itself in the face of public pressure. Relief supplies began arriving Sunday from Australia, which has pledged water-purification tablets, buckets for treating water and sanitizer spray packs.

The U.S. is sending heavy-lift helicopters, capable of carrying cranes and other heavy machinery needed for rescue and rebuilding work, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei; it gave no word on when the aircraft would arrive.

Taiwan has asked China to send 1,000 prefabricated houses to shelter survivors. The first batch is to arrive on Tuesday [August 18 2009].