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Post-Disaster Recovery Services in Taiwan

Abstract and Keywords

The 921 Earthquake in 1999 and Typhoon Morakot in 2009 both brought catastrophic damage to Taiwan. In the aftermath of these two disasters many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and social workers collaborated with central and local governments to provide post-disaster relief and reconstruction services. Among these, the most important initiative was the launching of a system for providing post-disaster human services, including counseling, education, employment, social welfare, and health care.

Keywords: 921 Earthquake, Typhoon Morakot, disaster preparedness, post-disaster reconstruction, community resilience, post-disaster recovery services, international social work

Introduction

The 921 Earthquake, also known as the Jiji Earthquake, occurred on September 21, 1999, and measured 7.3 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was near the town of Jiji in Nantou County. With 2,415 people killed, 11,305 injured, and US$10 billion in damage, it was the second-deadliest quake in recorded history in Taiwan. Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan in early August 2009, and was the second deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history. The typhoon brought torrential rains which triggered enormous mudslides and severe flooding throughout southern Taiwan, leaving 461 people dead, 192 missing, and causing roughly US$3.3 billion in damage.

Following both disasters, many NGOs and social workers collaborated with the central and local governments in providing a wide range of post-disaster recovery services, including organizing volunteers and donations, implementing recovery projects, reorganizing existing resources, and empowering local communities with disaster management skills. One of the most important initiatives was the establishment of a system for providing post-disaster human services. Yet, in the case of Typhoon Morakot, the effectiveness of this aspect of the post-disaster reconstruction effort was hampered by the service providers’ lack of awareness of cultural issues affecting the provision of post-disaster recovery services.

Post-disaster Recovery Services following the 921 Earthquake

In response to the devastation caused by the 921 Earthquake, on September 21, 1999, President Lee Tenghui announced a 12-point emergency order for carrying out rescue, resettlement, and reconstruction, and on September 27 the Executive Yuan established the 921 Earthquake Post-disaster Reconstruction Commission. The emergency order was put into effect until March 24, 2000, and provided clear guidelines to be followed by government agencies at all levels with respect to the provision of post-disaster reconstruction work. When the emergency relief efforts began to wind down, the Executive Yuan’s Council for Economic Planning and Development began to draft the Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan, which was approved by the 921 Earthquake Post-disaster Reconstruction Commission on November 9, 1999.

The Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan specifies the six main goals of the recovery process and eight principles making humanitarian concerns the focus of the process (see Table 1).

Table 1: Goals and principles of the 921 Earthquake Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan

Six Goals

Eight Principles

Enhancing the spirit of mutual assistance

1. Human-centered and life-based housing and community rebuilding.

2. Long-term development suitable to local conditions and zoning regulations.

Promoting the concept of community building

3. Minimizing environment impact; giving equal importance to cities and villages; enhancing the natural environment by capitalizing on the unique features of each locality.

Improving environmental sustainability

4. Making buildings, infrastructure, and communities more disaster-resilient; establishing a rapid-response disaster relief system.

Building new towns with disaster preparedness

5. Promoting the revitalization of traditional industries specific to each locality.

Developing local industries

6. Clearly demarking the authority and duties of central and local government departments; strengthening cooperation between departments; increasing flexibility; reducing red tape.

Promoting rural style living perimeters

7. Taking the government’s fiscal ability into account; making use of civic resources; encouraging participation of local residents; facilitating cooperation between specialists, business, government, and the public.

8. Government plays the leading role in major reconstruction work, with the support and cooperation of civic groups and local residents; local residents play the leading role in community reconstruction, with the support of government and civic groups; each project carried out within a specified time frame.

Source: Council for Economic Planning and Development (1999)

The Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan consists of four parts: public infrastructure; production facilities; social life; and housing and community. The social life recovery section puts forth the following principles: know the people who need help; make effective use of the resources available from the government, religious groups, and civic organizations; as far as possible, make use of local workers; encourage disaster victims to participate in the reconstruction process; strengthen medical services and public health in the disaster zone so as to inhibit the spread of infectious diseases; facilitate the psychological and emotional rehabilitation of both disaster victims and relief personnel; and improve information distribution and each community’s disaster resilience. Furthermore, this part of the plan encourages businesses, individuals, religious organizations, and civic groups to work together to provide mental health recovery services; education and student guidance; community welfare services; medical and health services; and employment services (see Table 2).

Table 2: Items in the life recovery services section of the 921 Earthquake Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan

Item

Authority

Content

Psychological recovery

Council for Cultural Affairs (Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Health and Welfare, National Youth Commission, Council of Indigenous Peoples)

Assisting the psychological and emotional recovery of disaster victims, relief personnel, and the general public by coordinating the resources of religious and civic groups providing cultural activities, counseling, lectures, and training.

Education and student guidance

Ministry of Education

Reconstructing and reopening schools in the disaster zone by coordinating the resources of institutions of higher education and civic groups; providing counseling and guidance.

Social assistance and welfare services

Ministry of the Interior (Ministry of National Defense, Council of Indigenous Peoples, Council for Cultural Affairs)

Establishing guidelines and coordinating the resources of religious and civic groups so that disaster victims receive appropriate assistance; providing follow-up assistance to the elderly, orphans, and disabled; helping to establish a sense of community for those living in emergency shelters.

Employment services

Council of Labor Affairs (National Youth Commission, Council of Indigenous Peoples)

Providing disaster victims with reconstruction jobs, employment services, and training.

Medical and health services

Ministry of Health and Welfare, Environmental Protection Administration (Council of Indigenous Peoples)

Providing convenient and systematic health services in the disaster zone; taking measures to prevent epidemics.

Source: Council for Economic Planning and Development (1999)

Although the Post-disaster Reconstruction Plan was merely a provisional measure meant to be superseded by legal statutes governing the reconstruction process, it did give civic organizations a chance to try out various programs and to make suggestions regarding related statutes being formulated at the time. When the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction was being drafted a coalition of civic organizations headed by the National Alliance for Post-Earthquake Reconstruction urged the Executive Yuan to set up life recovery centers in each town and city in the disaster zone within three months of the statute going into effect, a view which was supported by the legislature (Shieh, 2002, 2008). As a result, when the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction went into effect on February 3, 2000, Article 22 stipulated that each city and county in the disaster zone should set up post-disaster recovery service centers or referral centers, either directly or by commissioning a civic organization, in each affected town and city, in accordance with the population density and level of need. These centers deployed social workers, counselors, and other professionals to provide the following services:

  1. 1.) Social services: providing various types of support and welfare services required by the elderly, children, youths, the disabled, vulnerable families, single-parent families, low-income families, aboriginals, and other disadvantaged groups.

  2. 2.) Counseling: providing individual and group counseling for residents, students, teachers, and disaster-relief workers, as well as medical referrals.

  3. 3.) Training: providing education and training for community organization workers and post-disaster reconstruction services workers.

  4. 4.) Consultation: providing information and referrals relating to such issues as welfare measures, employment, relevant laws, filing complaints, public construction projects, enterprise reconstruction, and community reorganization.

Actually, even before the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction was put into effect, city and county governments in the disaster zone had already set up their own post-disaster recovery centers in accordance with the Comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan. These included a family support center in Nantou County, a recovery center in Taizhong City, a social welfare center in Taizhong County, and a social and psychological services center in Taipei County. Once the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction went into effect these municipalities utilized the special funds it made available to them to either upgrade their existing service centers or to establish new ones.

Reviewing the reconstruction efforts which followed the 921 Earthquake, Cheng (2014) points out that these community-based service centers (family support centers, recovery centers, social and psychological services, and the like) generally provided a single-door service, and in this way supported the disadvantaged and established a broad mutual-assistance network. On the other hand, it was the social work professionals who provided social and psychological services so as to help disaster survivors overcome their trauma, rebuild their social networks, mobilize the resources, and concentrate on reorganizing their communities.

However, in many cases a competitive relationship developed between outsourced recovery centers and local government departments. Moreover, due to a lack of familiarity with administrative procedures, it often happened that the recovery efforts of community-based service providers interfered with that of local government departments, thereby increasing the workload of the latter and hindering their efforts to allocate resources and services, sometimes resulting in considerable resentment (Liao & Wang, 2002). It also happened that service centers set up by local governments were tasked with duties they were unable to provide, as in the case of the social and psychological services center set up by the Taipei County government and staffed by social workers. It was later designated as a welfare services provider responsible for providing services in such areas as employment, housing reconstruction, mortgages, and legal advice—areas in which most social workers have little knowledge (Lin, 2002; Huang, 2009). Such problems need to be solved through the intervention and coordination of the concerned county and city governments.

Post-disaster Recovery Services following Typhoon Morakot

In comparison to the steady and incremental government response which followed the 921 Earthquake, the relief work in the wake of Typhoon Morakot was relatively swift and efficient, namely outcome-oriented (Manyena, 2006). On August 20, 2009, only 13 days after the typhoon occurred, the Executive Yuan had already drafted the Special Statute Governing Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction, which was ratified by the Legislative Yuan on August 28, 2009.

The overall purpose of the Special Statute Governing Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction is put forth in Article 1, which begins by stating, “This Special Act is duly enacted in an attempt to help proceed with Typhoon Morakot post-disaster reconstruction in a safe, effective and prompt manner.” Putting forth the central principle of the reconstruction work, Article 2 states, “The post-disaster reconstruction shall be human-oriented, focusing on helping to restore normal lifestyles. The post-disaster reconstruction teams shall honor characteristics of diverse and multiple cultures, assure hands-on participation by the local communities and shall, meanwhile, carefully maintain the security of national territories and sound protection of environmental resources.” Article 4 designates the highest authority governing the reconstruction work as the Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction Council. Article 5 delineates the scope of the reconstruction work by stating, “The central competent authorities shall, after the Special Statute goes into effect, provide the Typhoon Morakot Post- disaster Reconstruction Plan. The contents of the Plan shall include the reconstruction of housings, reconstruction of facilities, reconstruction of industries, restoring of social life, and reconstruction of culture exactly in accordance with the principle of preservation and restoration of the national territory.” In these four articles there is no significant difference from the contents of the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction.

However, Article 22 of the Temporary Statute for 921 Earthquake Reconstruction states, “County and city governments in the disaster zone must set up life recovery service centers in each affected town and city, and thereby provide welfare services, counseling, information, etc. These centers can be operated directly by the local government or by commissioning a civic organization.” However, in the case of Typhoon Morakot, since most of the towns and cities in the disaster zone were strongholds of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), which held a solid majority in the Legislative Yuan, was unwilling to allow disaster reconstruction resources to fall into the hands of DPP-controlled localities, the latter used its power to assure that the central government maintained strict control over the reconstruction process and resources. Thus Article 9 of the Special Statute Governing Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction reads, “The Central Government shall set up life recovery service centers in the affected areas (villages, townships, cities) to provide services in living, psychology, schooling, employment and other fringe benefits and welfare. The Implementation Regulations mentioned in the preceding paragraph shall be enacted by the competent authority of the Central Government.” Moreover, citing Article 4, Paragraph 4 of the Special Statute Governing Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction, which reads, “For implementation of this Special Act, the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act and other laws and ordinances concerned, the implementing authorities may consign or entrust other authorities (agencies) or associations to perform the task of implementation,” on September 7, 2009, the Ministry of the Interior adopted the “Regulations Governing the Operation of Post- disaster Recovery Service Centers in Areas Damaged by Typhoon Morakot” as well as the “Plan for Establishing Post-disaster Recovery Service Centers in Areas Damaged by Typhoon Morakot and the Commissioning of Professional Services.” Accordingly, a total of 27 disaster-recovery service centers were set up, as well as 41 liaison centers.

In accordance with the provisions of the Special Statute Governing Typhoon Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction and the Regulations Governing the Operation of Post-disaster Recovery Service Centers in Areas Damaged by Typhoon Morakot, the Ministry of the Interior allocated a special budget of US$16.37 million. At the same time, using a public tender process, civic organizations were commissioned to establish various post- disaster life recovery service centers and operate them for a three-year period beginning in 2010 (Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction Council, 2010). Each center was staffed with social workers and related professionals and linked various resources to provide the following services:

  1. 1.) Psychological services: Counseling and medical referrals (health departments).

  2. 2.) Educational services: Student guidance and matriculation assistance (educational departments).

  3. 3.) Employment services: Assistance applying for unemployment benefits, vocational training, and job referrals (labor departments).

  4. 4.) Welfare services: Various types of support and welfare services required by the elderly, children, youth, the disabled, vulnerable families, single-parent families, low-income families, aboriginals, and other disadvantaged groups (social welfare departments).

  5. 5.) Livelihood services: Supporting the establishment of local enterprises and job opportunities (related enterprises).

  6. 6.) Referral services: Providing information and referrals relating to such issues as relevant laws, filing complaints, public construction projects, enterprise reconstruction, cultural activities, and community rebuilding.

In addition to the post-disaster recovery centers set up and operated by civic organizations, the Ministry of the Interior itself provided supervision, evaluation, recommendations for improvements, and pre-service training for service-center personnel, and also convened regular meetings attended by service providers and members of local government bodies. Also, the Ministry of the Interior authorized municipalities directly under the jurisdiction of the central government to appoint a social worker to supervise the centers within their borders, and to conduct on-the-job training, inspections, and evaluations.

However, this supervisory and monitory role of the central government resulted in a number of problems. First of all, there was a certain amount of confusion as to the respective roles of the central and local governments. According to Huang, Tsai, and Chen (2011), placing the recovery service centers under the direct supervision of the central government resulted in an overly complex system which increased their administrative burden and hampered their ability to efficiently distribute resources and respond to the needs of the people they were supposed to be serving.

Secondly, major problems resulted from the public-private partnerships (PPPs) without consensus. All of the NGOs in the disaster zone were contracted by the central government, and many had difficulty working in harmony with local government bodies. Wang, Chao, and Hsu (2010) pointed out that in the reconstruction process both NGOs and government agencies encountered various hindrances, making cooperation difficult and at times generating conflict. Unlike the central government, the local governments were familiar with the needs of the disaster victims, yet they had no authority over the NGOs working in the disaster zone. In addition, there was no accountability about the rights and duties of the central and local authorities.

Thirdly, because the recovery service centers were supervised by the central authorities, the services provided often failed to take the particular needs of each community into account. According to Huang, Tsai, and Chen (2011), the post-disaster recovery centers were geared toward the needs of individuals and families, and thus failed to address such important issues as community empowerment and community development. Moreover, in conforming to the standardized evaluation procedures of the Ministry of the Interior, the service centers often failed to live up to the principle of “human-centered and life-based housing and community rebuilding.”

Fourthly, the disaster victims were not given sufficient chance to voice their opinions. The disaster zone was far removed from the central government, and the disaster victims had little opportunity to participate in the formation of the policies and measures governing the reconstruction process. Soon after the extent of the damage was assessed, 160 localities were declared unsafe by the central government, the residents of which were given a time limit for relocation. Of the 19,191 people living in these localities, 13,911 (72.5%) were aboriginals (Chen, 2010). Based on the relocation declaration, an Agency-Driven Reconstruction in Relocation Site (ADRRS) (Jha et al., 2010) plan was launched, resulting in the designation of 20 relocation sites and the construction of 3,546 permanent freehold houses for those rendered homeless by the disaster. Yet, the decision-making process was thoroughly lacking in sensitivity to ethnic issues and ignored the marginalized status of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples, resulting in bitter protests on the part of disaster victims (Shieh, Fu, Chen, & Lin, 2012; Shieh, Chen, & Lin, 2013). According to Shieh (2010), the central government tried to engage reciprocal partnerships with civic organizations, but totally failed to take the views of the disaster victims themselves into account in the decision-making and policy-making process. Thus the purported main beneficiaries of the reconstruction process—Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples—could do little more than accept the role of passive recipients in a system completely administered by outside parties.

Finally, the work of the post-disaster recovery centers was hampered by the government’s evaluation procedures. The central government allowed local government bodies to assist in the supervision and evaluation of the post-disaster recovery centers, resulting in continual interference from disgruntled disaster victims. Moreover, the central government convened annual meetings of specialists and representatives of local governments to evaluate the recovery work. Yet, already struggling to cope with their ongoing work, the recovery centers were far too busy to give much attention to the evaluations, which in any case were out of touch with the actual situation and gave excessive importance to numerical data (Guo et al., 2012). Furthermore, the personnel at the recovery centers had to spend a lot of time meticulously presenting the results of their work, as required by the local governments (Huang, Tsai, & Chen, 2011).

At first it may appear that the recovery work which followed Typhoon Morakot benefited from the experience gained in the aftermath of the 921 Earthquake. Yet, upon closer inspection, it can be seen that there was an important difference: whereas in the earlier case the recovery centers was commissioned, supervised, managed, and evaluated by local governments, in the latter case the recovery work was mainly in the hands of the central government, a situation in which the local governments had duties without authority, while the central government had authority but no duties.

Local governments and NGOs familiar with the disaster zone play a major role in enhancing the personal, family, and community resilience of disaster victims. By the same token, when there are problems with the reconstruction process, disaster victims tend to blame the local government. Yet, in the case of Typhoon Morakot the reconstruction efforts were mainly in the hands of the central government. This demonstrates how improper political interference in the post-disaster recovery process can result in an additional disaster.

References

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