Sunday, February 3, 2008

Trying to Go Home

Hundreds of millions of people are attempting to get home for the Lunar New Year which starts on Thursday.

But the heavy snowfalls in the last few weeks have made the journey perilous or near impossible.

Power lines are covered in thick icicles, many transmission towers have collapsed under the weight of the snow, causing power outages and forcing electric trains out of commission.

Roads are icy and dangerous to drive on, and some airports shut down.

Parts of central and eastern China are blanketed with snow, while the south is miserable with relatively cold temperatures and rain.

The images of the hundreds of thousands of people standing at the Guangzhou railway station are amazing. They are mostly migrant workers, many of whom have not gone home to see their families for years. And they are determined to get on a train.

They don't know when their train will start and they don't want to lose their place in the huge crowds.

The authorities are trying to persuade them to stay behind in the southern Chinese city to spend Spring Festival, but at the most important time of the year, traditions are hard to shake off.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have made the rounds, trying to show concern for the people.

In some respects it's working, but giving some face time isn't enough to quell the frustrations of ordinary people who just want to get home after standing in line for days.

The People's Liberation Army is feeding people, handing food and water to people stuck on the roads. In one foreign media report, sharp shooters are using sub machine guns to knock ice off power lines.

The police are trying to keep things in check at train stations, but in Guangzhou one person died in the stampede to get onto a train today.

The government has stopped short of declaring a state of emergency; it wants to show it's got the situation under control. They don't want the world to see China falling apart especially seven months before it hosts the Olympics.

Hopefully this natural disaster will be the strongest point yet to the government that climate change is happening right at its doorstep. It needs to take more responsibility for its environment.

It also shows how fragile China's infrastructure is. At the best of times it's barely holding itself together; and now with the biggest snowstorms the country has seen in 50 years, it needs contingency plans and better logistics planning.

It's really the people themselves who are showing the most resilience. Their determination to get home is admirable and I hope they do make it back in the next few days. They deserve the opportunity to see their family, especially after all they've gone through.

1 comment:

ks said...

is there any other way to better organise these migrant workers to take their annual holidays in a staggered time period? instead of every body cramp to one time slot would it be more feasible to go in an orderly manner when facilities can accomodate the incresed volume. right now the infrastructure is so fragile it just cannot take any unforeseeable eventuality. sure the chinese new year is a big occasion. but what about ching ming, dragon boat, auntumn moon festivals. each group or district takes turn for leaves in a staggered manner , thus to prevent system overload.