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Disaster Recovery: Hualien Earthquake of 2018

Disasters are unexpected events that occur instantaneously, causing significant damage to humans, animals, and the environment. The challenges caused by these disasters usually disrupt all societal operations. Man has for long coexisted with natural disasters. However, technological advancements ushered in the construction of permanent structures that disconnected man from nature. Consequently, the human population became more vulnerable to disasters. Increased loss of life, property, and destruction of the environment caused the international community to consider disaster in a new way that surpasses international boundaries. Presently, the global community advocates for anticipating natural disasters before they occur and neutralizing possible disasters at the pre-stage (Alexander, 2018). Despite this alertness, some of these disasters, such as earthquakes, still happen, causing people damage. Humans cannot prevent earthquakes from occurring; they can only lessen their impacts by constructing safer structures and educating people on earthquake safety. The Hualien earthquake of 2018 is an example of a natural disaster. The quake resulted in the loss of seventeen lives, property, and the interruption of macroeconomic flow. After this Earthquake, Taiwan’s administration embarked on a recovery process to restore normalcy in Hualien, a quest that left numerous lessons on disaster management. For instance, most of the victims suffered trauma injuries that needed trauma surgery. Thus revealing the need for investing more in treating surgical illnesses to be ready for significant casualty occurrences. This paper seeks to evaluate the challenges encountered in attempts to restore or maintain the macro-economy of Hualien County after the Hualien earthquake of 2018.

Recovery Phase of Disaster Management

Recovery encompasses all the activities after a disaster to restore essential community services and foster the return to normalcy. The recovery phase usually starts immediately after the disaster has subsided. By this time, all emergencies related to the catastrophe are ordinarily under control, and the affected community can take part in a few activities to restore their lives (Rouhanizadah 2020, p102). Some scholars categorize recovery into three phases: early recovery, medium recovery, and long-standing recovery. The initial recovery can run for several weeks, months, or years. Although the path to recovery follows a similar pattern, the duration an affected community takes at each phase depends on preexisting factors, availability of resources, and adaptability (Johnson and Hayashi 2012). The establishment of permanent physical and social structures occurs during the medium and long-term recovery phases. As permanent houses are being constructed, the social fabric is also restored, and children return to school while their parents seek opportunities to revive the economy.

By this time, the lives of victims usually feel secure and stable. The recovery phase also presents numerous opportunities for the victims to enhance resilience, increase readiness and reduce susceptibility (Silver and Grek 2015, p34). Preferably, the transition from recovery to long-term development should be smooth. After a disaster, the recovery activities are usually conducted until all community systems return to normalcy. For instance, school, healthcare, and transport systems are reopened. During recovery, victims of a disaster also undergo counseling to enhance emotional resilience because of the loss (loved ones& property) associated with a disaster situation. Activities of the recovery phase contribute significantly to long-term community development.

Economic Rehabilitation after Hualien’s Earthquake

Immediately after the Earthquake occurred, the Chinese Red Cross Society started distributing consolation money to support the victims during recovery. The national RCS has made several visits to the Hualien, during which its members console the survivors and fund basic needs. The Taiwan Red Cross society also issued educational disbursements across all academic levels to ensure learners return to school after the disaster. The TRC has also been providing relief funds to the affected families through a team that has remained committed since the earthquake struck (Westcott, 2018). This agency launched a fundraising campaign immediately after the earthquake to restore the lives of the victims. The money collected was released in three phases to the victims of this earthquake.

Fu Kun-Chi, a magistrate in Hualien, also requested the government to issue tourist vouchers to promote tourism and rebuild the area. Through his Facebook account, the magistrate expressed concern that the relief fund administered by the central government would not be enough. He urged citizens to visit Hualien and pump in money to revitalize the local economy, mainly on tourism. Fu supported his argument with the 2008 global economic crisis when the government-issued vouchers to every citizen to promote economic growth. Fu has criticized the government in interviews citing disparities in the distribution of relief funds. He noted that after an earthquake that killed more than 100 persons, Tainan received $687 as relief aid while Hualien only received only $300 (Taiwan News, 2019). William Lai insisted that the national administration remains committed to promoting tourism in Hualien via approaches such as subsiding travel and lodging fee. Nonetheless, tourism associations in Hualien felt that these efforts are inadequate for an economy largely dependent on tourism.

Rehabilitating the Stone Industry

Hualien holds a large number of stone resources; during its prime years, the production equipment in Hualien was ranked second after Italy. The lives of numerous people in Hualien are closely dependent on the stone industry. A walk in the urban areas reveals this; pavements are made from unwanted slabs, bus terminals are decorated with stone art, and walls are covered with stone tiles (Taiwan News 2018). Since the Japanese occupation, the Hualien stone industry has grown into three primary sectors: stone appreciation, stone material, and stone statues (Hualien Stone Press, 2022). Therefore the stone industry is a source of livelihood for many households in Hualien. The earthquake damaged the blocks used as raw materials in this industry significantly. This created unsafe working environments and forced the industry workers to stay away from their workplaces. Hence the input of this industry into the economy decreased significantly.

After the earthquake, President Tsai committed to offering assistance to the stone industry since it was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. Tsai met with representatives from this industry, and they tried to quantify the loss incurred during the earthquake. The economics ministry reported that this industry suffered losses of about US $220 million, with more than sixty companies recording damages (Taiwan News, 2018). During the meeting with President Tsai, the industry representatives requested the administration offer a safe storage site for the damaged blocks. These representatives noted that these blocks could be reused in the future despite being broken. The representatives indicated that the destruction would severely impact the business without storage by jeopardizing daily operations. Members of this industry also requested other forms of assistance such as loans, tax relief, and help in ferrying rubble (Taiwan News, 2018). They felt that the government needed to offer service to this industry since it has economic significance in Hualien County.

Rehabilitating Other Economic Sectors

Since Taiwan is a highly developed, market-free economy, Hualien also hosts other sectors such as agriculture, unit trusts, service industry, and transport (Futuray el al 2020). The contribution of these industries is also significant to Hualien’s economy. Hence the government initiated reconstruction efforts and economic stimulus packages from the emergency fund to restore normalcy in these sectors after the earthquake.

Challenges Facing Economic Rehabilitation

Relatively low speed of recovery. After the end of any disaster, the recovery rate in any setting depends on preexisting factors. People in developing nations are a perfect case study of this since life is complicated even in the absence of a disaster. The slow economic recovery experienced in these settings translates to prolonged, lasting economic pain and starvation for families and communities in these countries (Ryan et al 2016 p10). Research conducted after the cyclone hit Myanmar found that more than 50% of the surviving families had not their cattle and fishing boats swept by the storm surge after five years (Kou et al 2018, p62). Likewise, many people in Hualien are yet to recover from the loss of property and employment after the Earthquake in 2018.

The need for quality (better) recovery. Natural disasters are often considered an opportunity to build more resilient (better) infrastructure. Building better refers to constructing houses and public infrastructure that’s stronger and can withstand the risk posed by disasters (Johnson and Hayashi 2012). Having resilient structures reduces the economic and human loses in the future and eases the distress of survivors on their journey to recovery (Sahebjamnia 2015 p263). Tragic losses during a disaster are often associated with poor infrastructure. For instance, the unprecedented death of school children during the Sichuan earthquake in China was linked to poor adherence to building standards. Hence rebuilding after a disaster is considered a developmental leap for creating infrastructure that would not have existed without the tragedy.

Nonetheless, building better should be conducted to match the available resources to guarantee its success. Hence making back efficiently is what Hualien needed after the earthquake. However, this remains difficult to achieve since this county lacks the financial muscle to pay for the new infrastructure, especially after undergoing a disaster.

The conflict between culture and the recovery approaches. Even as Hualien continues to rebuild its economy, some initial recovery strategies conflicted with cultural practices. For instance, some persons were hosted in a stadium where they shared the sleeping environment immediately after the disaster. While legal, this caused parents and their mature children to share sleeping quarters against Hualien’s communities’ cultural practices. Thereby creating conflict between recovery efforts and culture. Similar contests have been reported in other areas worldwide, such as Sri Lanka, where risk-resistant houses remain unoccupied. Local communities in Sri Lanka rejected the circular-shaped tsunami-resistant homes since they felt the places looked bizarre for them to inhabit (Deraniyagalla, 2022).

The challenge of determining the most deserving people after a disaster. Usually, an administration needs to pause and question themselves before disbursing economic recovery packages. This is necessary since the beneficiaries may not be those who suffered the most significant financial losses if it’s skipped. After the Hualien earthquake, the government, with the help of other stakeholders, assessed the damages and drafted proposals for recovery (Taiwan News, 2018). The results of this approach remain divergent. Before implementing the economic recovery packages, the government should consider power relations, accessibility of resources, and the quality of executing agencies (Deraniyagalla, 2022). In Hualien’s case, the vulnerable social groups, such as urban squatters with insecure property rights, suffered greatly since the recovery packages did not recognize them as landowners. Consequently, these groups suffered heavily from the loss of property and income. Thus this created a social-economic disparity even as the entire county was on a path of economic recovery.

Following this turn of events, it became clear that preexisting patterns of inequality can persist even after a disaster. This remains a challenge even in developed nations. For instance, a decade after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a survey reported that child poverty remained exceedingly high in Louisiana (Deraniyagalla, 2022). This finding indicates that building better should focus on infrastructure and other economic and social dimensions in society.

Increased unemployment rate. As the government and other stakeholders strived to resuscitate Hualien’s economy, unemployment became a significant challenge. The level of unemployment had risen to higher levels than before the earthquake struck. The collapse of buildings destroyed some workplaces, such as schools which were a source of employment for many. Other structures such as bridges and roads were also killed, making it difficult for many to access workplaces (BBC 2018). These unemployed persons were entirely dependent on aid during the economic rehabilitation process. Hence the government encountered more pressure since it had to create employment opportunities while rekindling the collapsed economic sectors. Instead of focusing on economic normalcy, the government also shifted attention to unemployment.


After being hit by an earthquake, Hualien’s administration embarked on the journey to recovery like any other disaster victim. The recovery phase began immediately after the disaster had subsided. By this time, all emergencies related to the disaster were under control, and the affected persons were engaged in various activities to restore their lives. The recovery phase was preceded by assessing the damages resulting from the Earthquake. Nonetheless, despite these efforts from the government, the recovery approaches faced several challenges in resuscitating the macroeconomy of Hualien County. These challenges are a relatively low speed of recovery, the need for better recovery, the conflict between recovery approaches and culture, and the limitation of determining the most deserving persons after the Earthquake. These challenges reveal that patterns of inequality can persist even after the disaster. Hence Hualien’s earthquake incident presents an excellent opportunity for all stakeholders to learn the significance of the recovery phase in disaster management.


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