22 December 2016
Jiuhaocha: the extraordinarily dynamic landscape of Taiwan
I was looking at Google Earth imagery of Taiwan this week. In the early part of my career I spent a great deal of time there – Taiwan is a wonderful country in every respect, but from my perspective the extraordinarily dynamic landscape has always been a fascination. As you are probably aware, in 2009 the southern part of Taiwan was struck by a terrible tropical cyclone – Typhoon Morakot – that triggered many thousands of landslides. One of these, at Shiaolin Village, killed several hundred people. However, I was looking at a different site – the village of Jiuhaocha – a little to the south. This is a satellite image of a small village – I count about 50 houses and other buildings – in the mountains. The image below was taken in 2001. Mountain villages in Taiwan are often the home to comparatively poor, indigenous Taiwanese people and/or the families of ex-servicemen who became farmers when Taiwan was settled after the Maoist uprising in mainland China. Jiuhaocha is a village of the Rukai aboriginal people. The settlement was located within the mountains of Pingtung County in southern Taiwan. The Rukai people are one of the 14 recognized aboriginal tribes of Taiwan:
Jiuhaocha has a long and complex history. But this is an area that was hit very hard by Typhoon Morakot. This storm that caused the following to happen – this is an image of the same location in 2011:
The difference is undeniably shocking. In this case the village has been buried by sediment carried by the river in flood. But the source of this sediment was the multiple landslides triggered by the storm upstream of the village, some of which were very large:
Fortunately the population of Jiuhaocha were evacuated before the typhoon, so no lives were lost. But the risks to populations located in the mountains of a dynamic environment such as Taiwan are very clear.