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China Gets Rewarded in Combating Major Disasters

Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday the past five years was a momentous period for China, as the country recorded rapid economic and social development amid some major disasters including SARS outbreak, fatal typhoons, floods and recent snow and ice storms.

China suffered great life and economic losses from the above mentioned disasters. However, it was rewarded on the other hand.

Snow and ice storms plagued eastern and southern China since mid-January, leading to widespread traffic jams, structural collapses, blackouts and crop losses in 19 provincial regions, leaving 129 people dead and causing 151.65 billion yuan (US$21.3 billion) of losses. It was the worst snow disaster for the country over the past five decades.

However, China stepped out of the disaster in a short time, with the Ministry of Civil Affairs declaring southern provinces were "in stable condition" on February 28.

The Chinese leadership has drawn lessons from the snow and ice storm. "We will learn from this large-scale natural disaster," Premier Wen on Wednesday told nearly 3,000 lawmakers from across the country at the annual session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature.

Wen vowed to accelerate the development of infrastructure, including electricity, transportation and telecommunications, to improve the capacity to resist disasters and maintain normal operations.

While joining NPC deputies from the eastern province of Jiangsu in group discussion on Wednesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said, "The more advanced our society and economy, the more we have to be prepared for and be on guard against such risks," he said.

Actually, it is no wonder for China to end a catastrophe promptly. State Council, the Cabinet, established a headquarters to coordinate contingency measures for coal, oil and power supply, transportation and disaster relief in snow-hit areas, which effectively put resources from all over the country to combat the crisis.

The Chinese people joined in hands at a time of hardship. Northern provinces, where snow storm are not rare, dispatched thousands of electricians to the southern regions to help restore the damaged power grid. Some farmer volunteers from Hebei Province traveled a long distance to Hubei, one of the worst hit provinces, and contributed their part to the country's struggle.

The disaster-resisting practices derived from the experiences in dealing with frequent disasters since 2003 when Hu Jintao was elected state president and Wen Jiabao acted as premier. Soon after that, a severe SARS outbreak hit the country hard.

The combat against SARS raised the people's awareness of the importance of strengthening public health system.

China invested heavily, or 629.4 billion yuan of government expenditure, in health care in the past five years, up 127 percent from the previous equivalent period. The funding was mainly used to develop public health and medical services, and basically complete the formation of the disease prevention and control system and emergency medical response system.

The number of diseases covered by the state plan for immunization and disease prevention was increased from 7 to 15, and AIDS, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis and other major communicable diseases are treated free of charge.

During the past five years, infant and maternal mortality rates dropped significantly, while average life expectancy reached 73 years in 2005. They are momentous achievements for China, a developing country with a population of 1.3 billion.

China was hit by typhoons in 2006 with heavy losses of lives and property. A year later, strong typhoons attacked again in summer, but caused much lower losses with enhanced early-warning systems in place.

The NPC National Committee last August adopted an emergency response law aiming at improving the country's ability to handle frequent industrial accidents, natural disasters, health and public security hazards.

The law would help effectively minimize losses and prevent minor mishaps from turning into major public crisis, lawmakers said.

The introduction of new technology is also beneficial in the fighting against the disasters. Mobile phone text messages were widely used to warn those in danger.

When the SARS outbreak was quenched in 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao said that the nation would definitely recover its losses from the crisis as it continued to make progress.

"The most important point is to learn from past experiences and lessons," Wen said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 7, 2008)

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