09/22/2005, 00.00
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Official death toll from flooding and drought stands at 1,630

As announced at the beginning of this month, China's Civil Affairs Ministry released an official report on natural disaster. It shows that in nine months 1,630 people have been killed causing damage worth 163 billion yuans.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Floods, drought and other natural disasters have killed 1,630 people in China so far this year and caused damage totalling 163 billion yuan (€ 16 billion or US$ 19 billion), the Civil Affairs Ministry reported on Thursday. Altogether, Mother Nature forced some 13.3 million people to leave their homes.

The government said that such information would no longer be considered a state secret. This first report is part of a new initiative by Chinese authorities to routinely disclose death tolls and the economic impact of natural disasters on the country.

"We want to improve the general public's right to information and increase their participation in disaster reduction efforts and improve the transparency of our government," said executive Vice Minister Jia Zhibang in a press conference.

For decades, death tolls from floods, famines and other disasters—natural or man-made—have long been closely guarded secrets under China's Communist regime.

Mr Jia also referred to China's worst disaster of the Communist era, the 1959-1962 famine in which at least 20 million are believed to have died.

"As for the death toll for the three-year famine in China, we do not have the specific information about the death toll, so we will not revise the death toll nor will we publicise it," Jia said.

Thus, the government's statement earlier this month to tell the truth, past included, does not seem to be retroactive.

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