Taiwan passes land use law after deadly landslides

Rescue work on a landslide-hit highway in Taiwan on 22 October 2010
Image caption Multiple landslides hit a coastal highway last month, after a storm brought heavy rain to Taiwan

Taiwan's legislature has passed a law that requires all land on the island to be assessed for possible dangers, including landslides.

The law followed a spate of deadly mudslides, including one last year that buried a village of 500 people.

Under the law, land deemed dangerous cannot be developed. Assessments will be made public.

This means potential homebuyers and others can finally get important information they need.

This might seem common practice in other countries, but the law was controversial and stalled for years in Taiwan.

Two-thirds of Taiwan is mountainous. The island is also prone to typhoons.

Extreme weather

Developers, business operators and home owners feared geological surveys would find potential dangers that they would rather keep secret.

But Taiwan's government felt the island could wait no longer. It is experiencing more extreme weather due to climate change.

Record rainfall during last year's Typhoon Morakot caused mudslides, killing nearly 700 people. In some cases, the collapsed land had been deforested or overdeveloped.

Earlier this year, a landslide buried part of a highway, killing several people. Some geological experts say it should not have been built in the first place.

And last month a bus carrying Chinese tourists fell into the sea when the coastal highway it was on collapsed due to rockslides.

Each time such disasters occur, the government is roundly criticised.

President Ma Ying-jeou was forced to reshuffle his cabinet after last year's deadly typhoon. He can afford no more political crises, especially with his bid for re-election coming up in 2012.

What enabled the law to finally pass was a legislature controlled by the ruling party, which Mr Ma chairs. The recent deaths from landslides also put pressure on legislators.

The government will provide subsidies for schools, hospitals and roads to be relocated, rebuilt or reinforced.

Potential development projects could be cancelled if they are to be built on unsafe land although it is unclear how effective this new law will be.

An official told the BBC some developers can still carry out their projects by taking measures, such as reinforcing foundations.

Longtime Taiwanese residents and critics have said Taiwan does not lack laws, but that the laws are often spottily enforced.

Government administrations have also historically put economic development ahead of environmental protection and sometimes safety.

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