Disaster Management: Official Accountability?

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Following recent environmental contamination and mining accidents that have caused loss of life and widespread damage, there has been a concerted effort to make officials and business owners take responsibility for their actions – or lack of them.

Following the chemical spill on the Songhua River near Harbin, the head of China�s environment agency, Xie Zhenhua, has been forced to resign ahead of a planned departure. Local officials have also been blamed for lack of responsiveness to the disaster.

In separate news, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have ordered the Henan provincial government work to harder to save 42 miners trapped in the flooded Sigou Coal Mine. The mine�s owners are also facing arrest.

The public outcry, and resulting press and government action, is becoming increasingly familiar in the wake of industrial accidents, broken flood defenses, and in relation to health issues such as SARS and avian flu. These moves reflect the anger felt by local people, especially in communities that have seen limited benefits from China�s economic growth. They are also in line with the government�s efforts to reduce country�s wealth gap, and the resulting social tensions. Hopefully the trend will be towards openness, better governance, and more professional provision of key services � and not just face-saving public relations initiatives.

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