The August 2009 Landslides in Taiwan

Mass Movements pose a huge threat to communities and to people. Mass movements are driven by gravity and can be triggered by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or severe weather rainstorms. It is the movement of masses of bed rock, rock debris, soil, or mud usually running down steep-sided hills and mountains because of the pull of gravity. This slipping of large amounts of rock and soil is seen in landslides, mud slides, and avalanches. After the typhoon hit and the villages were flooded, landslides began to occur. The weight of the water created a heavy load which causes it to collapse and slide downhill. Water also affects the strength of clay minerals, creating a weak area of land, which can cause movement and slide (Figure A).This type of disaster can destroy, homes, jobs, personal belongings but most importantly they can destroy people’s lives, literally. It is important that people become educated on mass movements and learn how to avoid them and help if one should occur or they will have to deal with the devastating consequences such as the ones that occurred in Taiwan because of a major landslide. This mass movement was a tragedy to this town because people did not know how to deal it.
Ways of landslide hazard mitigation is:
1. Do not Build
2. Detection Devices (trip wires)
3. Channel debris flow into debris basins (and clean out after every flow)
external image 37e29dd9-ee3b-4e3f-b4e6-dff253865d46.jpg
Figure A- Different types of landslides that can occur

Background Information
From August 7, 2009 to August 11, 2009 Taiwan was hit by its worst typhoon, Morakot, in 50 years. Figure 1 displays where the typhoon hit in Taiwan. This typhoon destroyed most of Taiwan by flooding villages with 2.5 meters of rain and causing massive landslides that killed many people and destroyed thousands of homes. The total number of deaths reached nearly 600 people. Besides the number of deaths the consequences of such a disaster were horrific. Villages were completely wiped out due to landslides. For example, the village of Hsiao Lin was completely wiped out by a landslide that was caused by the typhoon, which can be seen by figure 2. Many of the landslides were debris flow which destroyed numerous homes because of the large boulders it carried down with it, and example can be seen in Figure 3. Only a handful of people were rescued while hundred others were buried alive by the landslide. Taiwan is prone to landslides because of its heavy rainfall and frequent earthquakes that cause the land to loosen up. Unfortunately people do not understand this and build their homes on or near mountains. These buildings as well as earthquakes put strain on the land causing it to slowly creep downward due to gravity. Once water is added to the land it makes it heavier and loses its friction thus causing landslides which lead to catastrophic events. This typhoon has caused an economic loss of $912 million impacting its agriculture and tourism income the most. Though they plan on regaining their economic losses through the jobs that will be offered during the rebuilding of the areas that were destroyed by the typhoon.

Figure 1: Map of Taiwan

Figure 1: Hsiao Lin Village after massive landslide

Figure 2: A home destoyed because of a debris flow landslide
Figure 2: A home destoyed because of a debris flow landslide

The president of the Republic of China, Ma Ying-Jeou, received much criticism because of his lack of quick response to the typhoon. As the typhoon began to approach he felt it was not a big threat and thus sent out only a few rescuers as seen in figure 4. Many people died because of this lack of help, or were left without food, water or even a place to sleep at night. He was also criticized for not warning the citizens to evacuate their homes to avoid being trapped in the midst of it all. On the day of the most destruction he did not want to receive aid from other countries because he felt that Taiwan was capable of handling the situation and thus a state of emergency was not necessary. The following day after seeing the actual destruction by the typhoon he quickly changed his mind and had no choice but to accept the aid. He eventually admitted to being wrong and apologized for the late response to send out aid. He also decided to reconstruct most of the villages that were lost with the five billion dollars the government has set aside for this reconstruction.

Figure 3: Soldiers giving aid to those in need.

Many people ask themselves how could the response to the landslides in Taiwan have been so delayed? or why was it not any better? There are plenty of reasons as to why this happened. One of the major and number one reasons is that people are not educated or taught on how to respond to such a disaster. All countries should teach their citizens on what to do if such a disaster should occur. It is also important that the president have a disaster aid fund available and ready to be used. By having this so much could be avoided. For the landslides in Taiwan the response to such a disaster could have been improved by all of these. First of all, the president should have sent out the message to evacuate as soon as they heard of the power of the typhoon. Second, he should have accepted the aid from other countries as soon as they offered it. This money and help would have allowed for many lives to be saved. Thirdly, and most importantly he should have sent out more rescuers. At first he did not sent out so many because he believed it was not a serious issue, but either way, whether it’s a small issue or big one, he should have sent out plenty of rescuers, the more the better. Quick action is what is needed in times like these. There is no time to double think about doing something, it should just be done. People need to learn from this tragedy that happened here in Taiwan and prepare disaster plans for future events so that everybody including the citizens can be prepared for them.

The landslides that occurred in Taiwan will go down in history for many reasons. One of those reasons is the damage that it cost and another is the lack of quick response. Many lives were lost and others are impacted for life. People now know of the true power of mass movements and should prepare themselves for any future events. The president of Taiwan was not prepared and it was evident in his lack of quick response to getting aid, sending out rescuers and for not warning the citizens of the power of this typhoon. Though this tragedy does serve as a learning experience for those that lived it and for the world itself. One should be educated and prepared in all aspects to avoid catastrophes such as these.


Dave's Landslide Blog. David Petley, 18 Aug. 2009. Web. 04 Nov. 2009.

Foreign Policy Blogs. Jessica Hun, 18 Aug. 2009. Web. 4 Nov. 2009.

MacArthur Center for Security Studies. Chih Judy Lin, 3 Sept. 2009. Web. 4 Nov. 2009.

Terra Dailey. Staff Writers, 13 Aug. 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2009.

Reuters. Jennings Ralph, 13, Sept. 2008. Web. 5 Nov. 2009.

Images Sources:

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

Figure 3: