Multiple earthquakes struck rural areas of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces on Friday, claiming dozens of lives and wounding hundreds. The news sent shockwaves throughout the country, highlighting China's vulnerability to natural disasters and the urgency for strengthened capabilities in disaster prevention and reduction.
A quake as strong as Friday's, which was measured at 5.7 on the Richter scale, could have caused fewer or even no casualties in a more developed region.
It once again served as a reminder that China has far from having completed its modernization process. The country as a whole is still prone to calamities that prey on its weaker aspects. Three decades of fast development have ushered China into the great cause of modernization, but that time was merely the beginning.
Many poorly constructed houses could not withstand the quake and were reduced to rubble. People who have illusions about China's national strength have to wake up to the fact that many people still live in houses with similar conditions. It is impossible for them to be immediately relocated to safer ones any time soon.
Society as a whole is by no means affluent enough. For many at the grass-roots level, it is more reasonable to spend their limited disposable income on a slightly better life. Coping with natural disasters has never been a priority for those people, who instead have to count on luck as they cannot afford the costly requirements of investing in precautionary measures.
Many would prefer bigger, rather than safer but more expensive, houses or apartments. To take the time and invest money in the prevention of natural disasters, which are unpredictable and are unlikely to occur, does not seem like a persuasive proposal to many in China.
The fundamental reason for this lies in poverty. There are always more pressing and urgent priorities in daily life for them to spend their money on.
Despite the status quo, we have to act now. Reflection and remedies should be in place. Things cannot be done in one move, but that's no excuse for remaining idle.
China should seek fast and quality development at the same time. The safety of lives is at the core of such an ideology. Houses, bridges and food should be safer and that's where modernization should be unswervingly headed.
Upgrades to urban infrastructure should no longer focus merely on their appearance. More people should work toward disaster prevention and rescue. Any infrastructure work should put safety above all else.
Indeed, safety comes at a cost. But it also brings more development opportunities and wealth in the meantime.