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Unexpectedly Vulnerable: Taiwan’s Need for Community-Based Disaster Education

Our month-long focus on disaster resilience continues with more insights from the field. Jill Chang, Give2Asia’s Field Network Manager, shares insights on the role of Taiwan in creating and spreading educational models for disaster preparedness.

Taiwan is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. In fact, it was ranked at number 9 out of the top 10 most vulnerable regions in the world due to its frequent earthquakes, causing it to receive a 1.3-notch downgrade in its credit ratings.
In recent years, other natural disasters have increased in number as well, including typhoons and landslides. The 921 Earthquake in 1999 caused 1,455 deaths and was one of the most severe natural disasters in its history. In the past ten years, the disaster that caused the most damages was typhoon Morakot in 2009, which caused a total of 681 deaths and US$ 6.6 billion in costs.
Contrary to the common conception of Taiwan as a wealthy and well-developed region with a high capacity for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and prevention, its rural areas, especially in the mountains, remain extremely vulnerable. Take Hualien, for example. It is located on the east coast of Taiwan, which is usually ground zero for typhoons. At the same time, it is sitting right on the geofault line, which leads to earthquakes occurring frequently. What often occurs is the earthquakes loosen the land and damage the structure of the buildings, such that when a typhoon or torrential rainfall hits the area, the damage is compounded. Moreover, the economies of rural areas usually rely on agriculture and tourism, meaning that once a disaster hits, the damage to the local economy is severe. This phenomenon took place two years ago in Tainan (台南) and Give2Asia responded with a mobilization to raise funds for its partner St. Teresa Opportunity Center, a shelter and education center for children with mental and physical handicaps. The fund was used for long-term recovery efforts, enabling St. Teresa Opportunity Center to remodel its damaged buildings and continue to support its local community in the disaster’s aftermath.
Moving forward with an understanding of these these risks, the unique needs of Taiwan to consider in DRR work include:

  1. Disaster preparedness education. Educating the residents of rural areas to be aware of their regional risks and actions they should take for risk management and prevention. In rural areas, residents usually need to develop the mindset of minimizing risks and must also be empowered with the resources to put this mindset into action. Projects to this effect include strengthening buildings, improving drainage systems, or developing an escape plan and having drills. While workshops have been carried out in this field, they have largely concentrated on the role of the public sector and academia as opposed to the necessary community-based trainings.
  2. Becoming a model training center for other Asian countries. While residents in rural areas need more training, the rescue capacities of local governments are relatively mature, and they are already utilized to provide training to other Asian countries. For example, Vietnam sent their Fire Department to the City of Taichung for a 2-week training on fire rescue, swift water rescue, and Inflatable Rescue Boats. Given its geographical location, cultural similarities, and its having the largest Rescue Training Center in East Asia, Taiwan stands in a great position to provide DRR training to other South-East Asian countries in a relevant and cost-effective manner.
  3. Acquiring best DRR practices from global leaders. At the same time that Taiwan provides trainings to other Asian countries, its programs need continuous optimization. By sending professionals to countries such as the U.S. and Japan, thought leaders in Taiwan will be able to pull from a variety of experts on the changing risks of increasing disasters.

Speaking from Taiwan’s perspective, we consider ourselves a part of the Asia-Pacific community and hope to collaborate with our neighbors to combat the threats from increasing natural disasters in our region.


Contribute to Taiwan’s Disaster Programming

For individuals hoping to get involved, there are currently three Give2Asia-based avenues to immediately support Taiwan’s initiatives to improve disaster resilience:


Disaster Resilience Month

Learn more about the disaster landscape in Asia with our other recent blog posts within Give2Asia’s month-long focus on disaster resilience.

Give2Asia is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that strengthens communities throughout the Asia-Pacific by building trusted networks for charitable investment. Its network includes 2,000 grant recipients and 15,000 donors. To date, Give2Asia has swiftly and thoughtfully responded to over 40 natural disasters in Asia and rebuilt local communities with $50 million in funding. For more information contact Sheena Agarwal, Development Manager of Disaster Programs at +1 415 967 7378 or sagarwal@give2asia.org.

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