Posted by: Dexter Roberts on November 13, 2009
As north China shakes off its worst snow storms in more than five decades, leaving flights grounded, highways closed, and stranding tens of thousands, some tough questions are being asked. On blogs, in newspapers, and in conversation, Chinese are wondering why their national weather authorities didn’t warn them in advance, and why the government transportation officials weren’t better prepared for the latest storm Nov. 12, nor two earlier ones including the snow dump that pounded Beijing on Halloween night and into the early hours of Nov. 1. (Although particularly severe, China has experienced bad snow storms before too, including one that racked southern China almost two years ago.) “Our government should put major effort into disaster prevention and reduction. It needs to do its work in advance instead of waiting for the incident to happen and only then take passive measures to remedy [the situation],” wrote one netizen from Shandong province on website 163.com on Nov. 12.
The first storm paralyzed Beijing Capital Airport, with hundreds of flights cancelled, leaving thousands of upset passengers milling throughout the airport, trying to rebook flights, find their checked baggage, or get their fares refunded. I was there for over six hours before giving up on finding a free seat on a flight to Shanghai and returned home. (I ended up flying out the next morning at 8:00 am.) The same scenario was repeated Nov. 12 with the Beijing airport once more in chaos, while others in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, Taiyuan, Shanxi, and Zhengzhou, Henan, were shut outright. Highways again were closed down. “We ordinary people can come with only ordinary suggestions,” wrote one commentator in the China Daily Nov. 13. “It’s for the government officials to think and plan about the more intricate and complicated issue. And that is not a tough ask, given the advancement we have made in technology and communications,” the writer continued suggesting that television, Internet and mobile phone messaging, all could have been used to alert people about flight cancellations and warn them from taking to the highways. .
Also controversial: the widespread belief in Beijing that the government bears some responsibility for at least one of the big storms. And this is not just a crazy conspiracy theory either. The capital has a bureau actually called the Beijing Weather Modification Office. This organization gained a fame of sorts for their efforts to control precipitation during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And the weather modification office “played a helping hand and “enhanced” the natural snowfall to ease drought conditions in the city, after it had gone more than 100 days without rain,” a spokesman said, according to the China Daily. Reportedly, 84 packages of silver iodide were fired into the clouds helping bring down the snow during Beijing’s first storm. “I believe it is not a question of improving government efficiency and cooperation among different departments, but a question of respecting the rights of the people. That should always be the basis of any government decision,” the China Daily piece editorialized Nov. 4.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.