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More Help Promised for Disaster Victims

The government will continue to upgrade its capabilities to cope with natural disasters as climate change leads to more extreme weather conditions, a senior official said last week.

Wang Zhenyao, director of the general disaster and social relief department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told China Daily on the sidelines of an international conference on poverty and hunger, that the ministry has this year spent about 3 billion yuan (US$400 million) on disaster relief.

The figure will climb to 5 billion by the end of the year, he said.

The country's total disaster-relief budget is 11.5 billion yuan, spread across several ministries including those responsible for the construction of schools and roads in disaster-affected regions.

"Next year we are expecting more investment," Wang said.

"We've seen an increased number of disasters such as droughts, earthquakes and typhoons caused by extreme weather this year," he said.

According to ministry figures, by the end of September, natural disasters had been responsible for financial losses of 161.2 billion yuan, affected 373 million people and killed 1,762.

However, the number of human casualties was down on the previous year as a result of better preparations, Wang said.

Last year, 3,186 people were killed in natural disasters and the financial loss reached 252.8 billion yuan. The ministry spent nearly 5 billion on relief work, he said.

Although there have been fewer casualties this year, the compensation budget is the same as last year, so those affected will get more, Wang said.

For example, people whose homes were destroyed by a natural disaster this year were given 1,500 yuan, up from 600 yuan in 2006, he said.

The ministry also provided money for emergency relocations, he said.

Wang said the government had also increased its efforts to better help poor communities hit by disasters.

"It is vital to help poor people rebuild their homes and provide subsidies because when disasters come, they are always the hardest hit," he said.

Poor people's houses are often unable to withstand extreme weather conditions, Wang said.

For the remainder of this year, Wang said his office will concentrate on helping to rebuild communities hit by disaster, such as those in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces where 1.5 million people had to be evacuated following Typhoon Krosa.

The ministry will also implement a comprehensive disaster-relief appraisal system by the end of the year to ensure all funds and technical support are in place and properly managed, Wang said.

(China Daily October 24, 2007)

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