Judging by the way the Macau government handled severe tropical storm Pakhar, it seems to have learnt quickly from its errors with Typhoon Hato.
The devastating impact of Hato on Macau was obvious and plunged the administration of Fernando Chui Sai-on into an unprecedented crisis. The deployment of the People’s Liberation Army to help clean up the garbage and debris left by Hato was necessary, to prevent further damage being inflicted by Pakhar, which followed close behind.
In 2012, when invited to train a group of upper-middle-level civil servants, my topic was crisis management. I asked for opinions on how Macau should cope with a crisis like the 2011 tsunami in Japan. The answers were disappointing, including the view that such a crisis was impossible, and that a higher-level emergency unit would tackle it. The only more proactive answer was that residents should be evacuated to higher ground and inner mainland areas. The lack of crisis consciousness was evident.
Judging from the reactions of Macau’s Civil Protection Action Centre, which dealt with Pakhar, the city’s leadership has learnt a bitter lesson from its failure to take effective precautionary measures against Hato. The following are further lessons that can be learnt in the aftermath of Hato and Pakhar.
Firstly, Macau should develop its own electricity supply and be less dependent on Zhuhai. Without an independent power supply and sufficient reserves, any powerful typhoon could well leave life paralysed.
Second, a large wall to the west of Macau could be built to protect from flooding caused by any future typhoon. At the very least, such a protective wall would minimise the serious flooding that often takes place during typhoon season.
Third, the size of Macau’s disciplined forces, including the police and fire services, will have to be enhanced, and stricter controls imposed to prevent unscrupulous taxi drivers charging exorbitant rates during typhoons, as they did during Pakhar.
Fourth, operational procedures of the observatory must be improved. Hato tracked closer to Macau than Hong Kong, and it is curious why the Macau observatory did not trigger typhoon signals eight and 10 much earlier, unlike Hong Kong, where the observatory reacted far more swiftly. Macau must gather meteorological data on typhoons from the Hong Kong and Guangdong weather stations, to be able to make more accurate predictions and initiate the necessary precautionary measures.
Fifth, Macau’s water supply system will have to be strengthened. The lack of water supply, in some areas for days, not only led to public complaints and discontent, but increased the risk of public health crises. Fortunately, the PLA soldiers were mobilised to sterilise the streets piled high with destroyed construction material, garbage, mud and sand.
Sixth, crisis governance embraces public-private partnership, which could be improved. While Macau’s uniformed services tried their best to restore normality, the private sector, including citizens and interest groups, mobilised to clean up garbage on the streets, supply bottled water and share information. The swiftness of the private sector was impressive. If Macau is regarded as a city full of interest groups, they could be brought under the umbrella of crisis management in a more coordinated and mobilised manner in the future.
Seventh, a blemish in Macau’s typhoon management was its curious reaction to deny entry to a few Hong Kong reporters. Open governments can deal with natural disasters more effectively than closed ones. Following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in mainland China, the government welcomed local and foreign reporters to cover the tragedy.
Eighth, a rethink of urban planning is necessary. In the past two decades, urban development in Macau has focused on megaprojects, without sufficient flood prevention measures. The local drainage system will need a complete overhaul. Underground car parks will have to be avoided and more high-rise buildings dedicated to parking will have to be built.
Proactive typhoon management measurements will see Macau’s legitimacy strengthened rather than weakened, as was seen after Hato hit the city.
Sonny Lo is a professor of politics at HKU SPACE