China - Taiwan Province

Taiwan marks 60 villages for relocation after typhoon

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TAIPEI, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The Taiwan government is pressing for unprecedented mass relocation to head off any new criticism for lack of preparedness after being under fire for its slow response to last month's typhoon.

Taiwan authorities, reeling from the deadly typhoon that hurt the reputation of island President Ma Ying-jeou, aim to relocate 60 unsafe communities to avoid future storm damage, a disaster official said on Thursday.

The response to the typhoon, which killed as many as 770 people, has become Ma's biggest challenge since taking office in May last year, prompting a change of premier and several cabinet ministers.

The 60 southern Taiwan communities of several dozen to more than 1,000 households will be asked to move to new ground to avoid the sort of landslides that buried parts of villages following typhoon Morakot from Aug. 7-9, said Chern Jenn-chuan, deputy minister of the Public Construction Commission.

Relocation will start with about 4,000 people left homeless.

"Otherwise, the next time a typhoon comes along, the government will bear responsibility," Chern told Reuters in an interview. "A lot of people want this done pretty fast."

Taiwan's population, the world's 15th densest, has pushed too far into the mountains and built too intensively for safety, said Chen Hung-yu, a National Taiwan University geoscience professor.

Taiwan also has found an extra T$30 billion ($926 million) from the annual central government budget to help with relief work following its worst storm in 50 years, Chern said. That figure brings the total disaster relief budget to T$150 billion.

Authorities cannot force villagers to move and have not set a relocation timetable, Chern said.

"If they live in a really dangerous place, we would need to keep negotiating," he said.

But the government expects to win widespread support by offering jobs, free quality homes and the resettlement of entire villages, including trademarks of the Taiwan aboriginal culture that dominates much of the disaster-prone mountains, he said.

One Taiwan high-tech firm will introduce organic agriculture in resettled communities with a pledge to raise previous household income by an average of 15 percent, he said.

(Reporting by Ralph Jennings and Joan Hsu; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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