What Can We Do in Human Disasters?

We have been suffering tremendous loss this Chinese New Year from the collapsed apartment building in southern Taiwan due to earthquake. Over ninty people had died as of today’s statistics. The bright yellow lanterns with the slogan of “nation prosperous,people safe” written in red hanging in front of the collapsed building right next to the tin cans stacked up inside the pillar are most ironic. It is a human disaster surfaced by a natural disaster.

The developer and architects were swiftly arrested due to international reporters’ wide coverage of the tin cans. There were reports that the developer ran out of money before the building completion and then changed his name a couple of times to avoid the debtors, but he has been the developer for many other buildings in the area under different names. He claimed the building is over twenty years old and he cannot be held responsible for the earthquake induced collapse, the architects brushed off responsibility saying they were not involved in the building process and just loaned their licences to the developer.How can justice ever be served for all those who lost their lives or loved ones and homes even if all three were sentenced for life?

Back in 1999 another serious earthquake, pillars were also found to be made of cooking oil containers and styrofoam, yet a few days ago a professional organization leader in building construction still claimed that they were legitimate because the pillars were merely decors and would be too heavy if concrete were used. A whole wall was later found to be made of styrofoam inside.

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Local news also reported the landlady  who owned first to fourth floors had removed many pillars and walls to facilitate renting to large outlets.The renter, a huge chain of electronic outlets like Best Buy or Fry’s in US, made official statements that they had not changed any structures in the rented space.

Public safety has always been a big issue in Taiwan. From time to time, we have had human disasters such as the water park (June,2015) or the gas pipe (2014) explosion with hundreds injured and many dead.Yet only one person who organized the event was sentenced to just a few years but the water park owner got away without a hair touched and the penalties for those responsible for the gas pipes were probably so light that I could not even recall if they were penalized or not.

Corporations have always been generous in disaster donations, this time  ranging from a million to fifty millions (USD 30,000 to 1.5 million). There were conflicts between the ones paying and families of water park explosion victims who were accused as greedy, just hope money matters would not be so ugly this time. But over a hundred households lost their homes, some were first-time owners with mortgage to pay. It would be a very difficult legal process even though the assets of the developer and architects were already frozen by court order but they would amount to nothing compared to what all of them lost.

Many  donated food, water,clothes or volunteered to help in the rescue. The people in charge had to broadcast in the media for people to stop donating food because there was a surplus.An Italian journalist commented on the kindness of Taiwanese offering him free water and food, yet a woman volunteer from Rotary Club was attacked on social media for wearing red on such tragic occasion but in tears she defended herself for shooting a video fundraising with international Rotary clubs. There were conflicts between the family members and rescue team on strategies as well.

Medical support seemed more organized than the water park explosion(that sparked fierce accusations of an oncology hospital refusing to accept burnt patients even though they don’t have the facilities or means), but there was little mention on emotional or pyschological support and assistance.Some nearby hotels were very generous in offering accommodations for the families and rescuers.

Back in the 1999 earthquake, I had a great urge to do something to help and called up many organizations to see if I could avail myself to help but regretfully ended up doing translation for a Buddhist organization that just wanted to propagandize their relief merits internationally.Though every time I watch the news on TV in the past week, my heart cries for the deceased and family, I keep asking myself what are some needs that I am capable of offering help. I envied a seventy-year-old lady who was a victim in the 1999 earthquake she could really help with charm because she had experienced it first hand. Frankly I wrangled my brain and hated to conclude I would be more a burden than help in the rescue.

The media uncovered a report on many districts with soil liquidification problems that needs to be addressed in order to withstand earthquakes or floods. May be how to prevent human disasters in future would be just as crucial. The Taipei mayor elected last year was as popular as Bernie Sanders and went after a developer of a coliseum project like  Sanders on banks yet the whole matter is still dangling for months with insurmountable issues and continuous financial losses assumed by all taxpayers.

The key is how to restore the conscience of the developers, bankers or business people despite the need to pursue profits as well as workers fulfilling responsibility for what they are paid to do. When they have so much power in covering up that even the handful of government officials who really wanted to do something about it were at a loss and had to let it go. What can the public do even they have the right to vote or protest?

Is there a magic charm to awaken the conscience?

Maybe one heart or mind at a time. Unfortunately it might be faster through international pressure.