SOUTH KOREA: Despite a commitment to enhancing preparedness for climate change-induced extreme weather events, experts argue that South Korea has not taken sufficient action, particularly considering the anticipated increase in sudden and heavy rainfall in the coming decades.
In less than a week of heavy rains, at least 40 people have lost their lives, including 14 individuals trapped in flooding in Cheongju’s subway. This tragic situation raises concerns about the nation’s readiness for localized and intense downpours.
Experts highlight a lack of commitment to allocating necessary funds, with an imbalance towards post-disaster recovery rather than preventive measures, despite the pledge to improve preparedness.
Jeong Chang-sam, an engineering professor specializing in water resources, stresses the importance of prevention in reducing damages and saving lives. However, politicians and government officials often overlook prevention due to its less immediate and visible benefits.
Jeong cites the example of a plan to install remote-controlled access barriers at underpasses, implemented after a flood in Busan in 2020. Many flood-prone areas, including Cheongju, have failed to follow through with similar plans.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has reiterated the need to manage extreme weather as the new norm and abandon the idea that nothing can be done about unusual circumstances.
However, South Korea’s preparedness for harsh weather has lagged, despite committing substantial funds.
The costs of property damage and casualties due to extreme weather events have tripled since the previous ten-year average, according to a 2020 study by the Korea Meteorological Administration.
Cheongju, where 14 lives were tragically lost in a flash flood, is a recently developed suburban area and a crucial transportation hub. The region experienced a levee breach in an area designated for future construction.
Experts warn that while there won’t be a significant increase in average annual rainfall between 2021 and 2040, the occurrence of extreme downpours is expected to rise sharply due to climate change.
During the past week, 27 people have died or gone missing in North Gyeongsang Province, primarily due to landslides in the mountainous region.
Authorities have faced criticism for their slow response and failure to establish an effective system to alert residents. Investigations are underway to determine the timing of evacuation orders.
Lee Su-gon, a former civil engineering professor, estimates that over a million locations in the country are at risk of landslides, with only a fraction currently under monitoring by authorities.
Lee highlights the tendency of regional governments to prioritize spending on recovery efforts rather than preventive measures when dealing with natural disasters. He emphasizes the need to allocate more funds towards prevention, as is the practice in advanced countries.
The situation calls for immediate action to address these shortcomings and prioritize preventive measures in order to mitigate the impact of climate change-induced extreme weather events in South Korea.