Xingtai offers another lesson in information transparency

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/23 21:07:51

Heavy rains this week touched off severe floods in northern China, inflicting great loss to life and property in Daxian village, Xingtai, Hebei Province. According to local authorities, 25 were killed and 13 were still missing by Saturday.

Netizens believe the actual level of casualties was much heavier than what authorities have announced. But as Xingtai is thrust into the limelight, those familiar with China's official system hold that there is scant possibility that the authorities deliberately concealed the casualty count from the public, because the risk of doing so is too high.

However, Xingtai authorities were apparently too late in making information public. News and pictures of people who died in floods in Daxian village were first released on social media platforms. Floodwaters swept across the village early Wednesday morning, but authorities had not reported the casualty count until Friday.

A delay in information is not supposed to happen. As a result, authorities are suspected of deliberately hiding the truth.

Many local governments in China are more eager to release good news than bad news. 

Every time a major disaster happens, public opinion always focuses on the attitude of authorities toward information transparency. The public would make an issue out of even facial expressions officials make who may be reserved when talking about the real situation.

Xingtai authorities were beaten by social media on the release of information. In the Internet era, information transparency has become one of the core issues in disaster relief. Many local governments have tasted the bitter pill in the regard, and Xingtai is the latest example.

Weather forecasts are largely more accurate these days. Heavy rains may lead to unexpected casualties. For instance, trees and buildings may collapse, causing deaths and injuries. However, the situation where locals could not be evacuated while the village is besieged by floods should never happen again. 

Modern telecommunications and pre-warning mechanisms have enabled us to prevent such tragedies from happening. The tragedy of Daxian village was a combination of a natural disaster and human error.

Four years ago, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei experienced a heavy downpour that resulted in dozens of casualties. Xingtai shouldn't have allowed this to happen again.

China frequently suffers from floods, which have swept from south to north this year. Many places are now much more advanced in dealing with floods.

Compared with 1998, heavy rains result in much less casualties this year. The timely evacuation in Hubei Province successfully avoided severe injuries and deaths. Beijing also responded to heavy rain on July 20 in a more capable manner.

The situation in different parts of China varies. Every time disasters will expose our weaknesses. Local officials work hard, but their ability to cope with crises have not kept up with the times.

This year's wet season is not over. According to weather forecasts, more rain will hit northern China from Saturday night to Wednesday, including heavy rain in some areas.  Plans must be made on how to deal with floods.

Local governments should take thorough precaution measures, and once a disaster strikes, they must be forthright to the public and serve as the most reliable source of information.

Posted in: Editorial

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