A full three years after the devastating earthquake that struck Taiwan in the early hours of 21 September 1999 which left 2,368 people dead, nearly 8,000 seriously injured and more than 300,000 homeless, the Taiwan Red Cross Organization (TRCO) is still playing an important role in helping affected populations and helping to mitigate the impact of any future natural disaster.
Amidst the chaos and confusion that left a multitude of families homeless in numerous parts of central Taiwan and Taipei, the TRCO was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the catastrophe. Three years on, it is still active among earthquake victims still living with the impact of the disaster.
The effects of the 1999 earthquake on Taiwan's economy, particularly the agricultural and tourism sectors, have been significant. The country's economic difficulties have been compounded by the fact that two powerful typhoons in 2001 triggered a number of mudslides and struck the very same areas initially impacted by the earthquake, adding pain and misery to residents still reeling from the events of 1999.
Unemployment rates have risen sharply since the disaster - from below 3 per cent to 5.02 per cent. Particularly affected are low-income aboriginal tribal people. With a population of around 400,000, their per capita income of US$ 571 per month is approximately half of the Taiwanese average of US$ 1,078 a month. Unemployment rates among them is 14.9 per cent - far higher than the national average above.
The ramifications of the earthquake are also impacting upon the children of these families. Some parents can no longer afford to send their children to school as they are unable to pay tuition fees and related expenses.
Since February 2002, the TRCO has used some of its remaining funds from its earthquake rehabilitation programmes to support the education expenses of some of the affected families. It has given cash grants cash worth US$ 1.5 million to 8,115 school age children and university students.
In the coming school semester, the Red Cross will aim to disburse US$ 2.3 million to 10,000 schoolchildren.
The TRCO work to assist low-income aboriginal families is being supported by the International Federation which will donate US$ 5.8 million to help the people get through these difficult times.
The International Federation is also working with the TRCO on a three-year programme that involves the establishment of 21 disaster preparedness centres, recruiting more volunteers and equipping all 26 Red Cross branches and headquarters with communication and relief equipment as well as relief supplies. This will enable the TRCO to respond even more effectively to disasters that regularly hit the island.