There’s a phrase you find yourself using in headlines about disasters like the flooded mine in Shandong: "Hopes fade as…." I notice the China Daily has used it again today. It’s often not really very honest. The fact is that by the time any of us heard that there had been a disaster there, there was already no hope and we all know that. The men were already dead. But you don’t want to admit that. Not out loud. So we pretend that there’s some hope.
Here are three reactions by three writers to the Huayuan mine disaster from the Southern Metropolis Daily.
Southern Metropolis Daily, August 20, 2007
On August 17, water burst into the Huayuan mine in Xinwen, Shandong. By the 19th, more than 6,700 people involved in the huge rescue effort had plugged the broken levee, and had turned to pumping out the water. But nothing was heard from the 172 trapped miners. In the afternoon of the 19th, Shandong provincial government spokesman Zhang Dekuan said this was a flooding incident caused by natural disaster.
What caused the miners to lose their survival instinct?
One miner who escaped out of the pit said that after water was discovered to be coming in, many workers’ sections phoned to report it but at that time there was no way for people above ground to assess how the situation was developing and there was no order for the miners to evacuate. Some miners say that the managers of the mine practiced a paramilitarized system of management. "Many people had learned this habit. If there was no order from above to act, then no one dared to act." (August 20, Beijing News)
In fact, earlier reports already gave cause for suspicion. The mine announced to the outside world that the flooding began at 2.30 pm on the 17th, but miners’ relatives who were interviewed by the media said miners discovered water coming in at around 2 pm and reported it by telephone. That is to say, between these two times, there was half an hour to flee for their lives. According to workers who are very familiar with the situation in the pit, half an hour was just about enough time to escape the claws of death. However, this precious time to run to safety was wasted. Apart from confirming the facts described above, the latest information also offers us a cruel reason: what made the miners wait helplessly to be killed by the flood was the so-called "paramilitarized management."
We live in an age when all kinds of management theories abound and it is impossible to prevent a variety of false theories from prevailing. The so-called "paramilitarized management" is one such theory. When the miners see leaders they must immediately greet them. The leaders can pay no attention to the workers but the workers cannot neglect this courtesy, otherwise they will be fined 30-50 yuan…. Is this the so-called "paramilitarized management"? Really, it is nothing more than enslavement of the workers.
The mine workers may not have expressed any objections to this "paramilitarization," but this kind of tolerance is established under increasingly severe employment conditions. Faced with the deluge that would take their lives, without instructions from management, they abandoned their survival instincts and helplessly slipped into absolute disaster.
Respecting common sense, we need feeling for others
Objectively speaking, as the Shandong Province People’s Government spokesman says, this was a flooding accident caused by a natural disaster. There is no way to stop a natural disaster, but we cannot abandon the most basic of vigilance. On the 16th and 17th, when the area of the Huayuan mine had its heaviest rain for 70 years, why were the mines in the area still working as usual without any alert whatsoever being issued? If the mine had discovered the danger at the proper time and if the government had issued strict orders three days earlier, instead of on the 19th, maybe this accident could have been avoided. Actually, this is not an exacting demand. It is simply the most basic common sense.
In the face of nature, humankind is extremely frail but not craven. We have the ability to reduce harm to a minimum, and we have the ability to protect our own safety. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we must respect common sense. This requires strengthening and improving of the system. It also requires sympathy and feeling for others.
We cannot ignore the man-made causes
First, is our awareness about flood risks too weak? The local government has stressed that the area around the Huayuan mine suffered its worst rainstorm for 70 years. But it’s worth mentioning that the national flood control headquarters issued the "Guiding principles for drawing up a flood-risk plan" many years ago, requiring that local governments actively develop a flood risk plan according to local conditions. If the local government drew up a flood-risk plan, put it to widespread use and strengthened the flood control levees along the Wen River, what would the situation be like then?
Secondly, are there gaps in the flood warning mechanism? Did the weather and hydrological departments not issue accurate forecasts, or did the local government not pay enough attention to the forecasts and so did not launch alert and action mechanisms to deal with it, with the result that the flood overwhelmed them? This, I’m afraid, is also worth examining closely.
The terrible thing is, once natural disaster strike, certain local governments always have a habit of stressing how rare these events are. But very few seriously look for the human factors that probably lie hidden behind these natural disasters, or carry out the necessary administrative search for responsibility, or reform and improve the relevant mechanisms. Thus, in many areas, natural disasters get worse each year and the people suffer more deeply.