Wave of crime follows floods

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The Independent Online
LAW AND ORDER is starting to break down in disaster-struck areas of China after more than a month of severe floods.

The Supreme People's Court has ordered the legal authorities in flood- ravaged areas "to work around the clock" and to give priority to cases of "destruction of public facilities, stealing, robbing or raping flood victims, dereliction of duty, misappropriation of relief funds and goods, spreading rumours, or hoarding and profiteering".

Maintaining "social stability" is as much a priority for the Chinese government as securing the water-logged dykes. Peasants have resisted forced evacuation from lands that have been purposefully flooded to divert water from downstream urban areas.

Millions of rural inhabitants are camped out along dykes in unhygienic shanty villages, many saying that they want to stay near their submerged homes because of looters.

The People's Daily newspaper reported crimes related to breaking the dykes, explosives, poison and sabotage. The "embezzlement or misappropriation of relief funds and goods" should be dealt with, it said.

The Communist Party's disciplinary arm admitted that some party members and cadres "desert their posts in time of danger, were absent when they should be on duty, [and] did not obey orders from above".

With corruption rife in every field of Chinese life, the party warned of the need "to strengthen the management of donations, to make sure that the relief money and goods go to the flooded people".

The extensive television coverage of the floods, on the other hand, mostly shows the heroic efforts of the People's Liberation Army and the supportive efforts of party leaders. Yesterday, it was President Jiang Zemin himself, shown touring the dykes in Hubei province and exhorting the masses to continue their struggle.

China's propaganda chief, Ding Guangen, has ordered the media to "provide moral support" to flood workers. "More should be done to highlight the civilians, soldiers and officials fighting the floods, and the relief efforts nationwide," he said.

The official death toll has not been updated for almost two weeks and stands vaguely at "more than 2,000". Casualties in specific dyke breaches are not reported.

The positive spin on flood reporting has produced some ludicrous moments. Earlier this week, the main television news programme featured footage of a woman squirting breast milk on top of a soldier's head to treat hornet stings he had received in the fight.

With 17.6 million homes destroyed or submerged, and China's GDP growth hit by the floods, the Xinhua news agency yesterday even tried to present some good economic news. "The floods delayed some infrastructure projects and weakened consumer spending in rural areas, but the large-scale home rebuilding activity after the floods is expected to stimulate consumer spending," it said.

Industry, agriculture and even the oil fields have been devastated in the flood zones, and economic losses are estimated at about $24bn.