Forty or more people lost their lives In less than a week of torrential rains – including 13 who died when floodwaters trapped them in a tunnel in the city of Cheongju – cast doubt on the country’s efforts to prepare for localized and severe torrential rains.
Experts say the pledge of better preparation has not been followed through with the necessary funds, while spending remains focused too much on recovery and not enough on prevention.
Prevention is important for minimizing damage and loss of life, said Jeong Chang-sam, a professor of engineering at Endok University in Seoul who specializes in water resources, but it is often overlooked because the benefits are not immediately apparent to politicians and government employees.
“People like to use expressions like rapid response and emergency recovery…but climate disasters are already underway,” Jeong said.
He said, “If you invest money in prevention projects, you can do it for half the cost of recovery projects.”
Jeong cited the example of a plan to install remote-controlled access barriers at tunnels, which was set up after a flood in Busan trapped and killed three motorists in 2020. The plan never moved in several flash flood-prone areas, including Chungju, he said. .
President Yoon Seok Yul on Monday echoed a call he made last year, when August floods One of the heaviest downpours to hit Seoul in 115 years has paralyzed business districts and flooded the low-lying neighborhoods of the affluent Gangnam district.
“This kind of extreme weather will become the norm, so we need to manage it as the norm, and we absolutely need to get rid of the idea that we can’t do anything about the extraordinary circumstances,” Yun said at a disaster response meeting. .
Officials promised to spend more on natural disaster prevention after the country pledged nearly 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion) in 2022, up 20% from what it spent the previous year, according to the interior ministry.
South Korea is mountainous and urban development has left many areas vulnerable to landslides, while preparation for severe weather response has not been Even speed.
A study conducted by the Korea Meteorological Administration in 2020 found that property damage and injury costs from extreme weather had tripled compared to the annual average for the previous decade.
Cheongju, where a flash flood killed 13 people, is a modern suburban development, and transportation hub serving the administrative capital, Sejong. The area is located next to a river, and on Saturday a dam broke at a spot where it is scheduled to be built.
Jeong Ki-chul, a hydrological engineer at the Korea Environment Institute, said that while average annual precipitation is not expected to increase significantly between 2021 and 2040, the sharp increase in “extreme precipitation” is likely due to climate change. .
“In particular, the disaster damage caused by floods will continue to increase not only due to the heavy rainfall but also the number of rainy days,” Young said in a report published in December.
Among last week’s victims were 20 dead or missing in mountainous North Gyeongsang Province, many due to landslides.
Jeong of Endoc University said authorities who were too slow to act on available information and who did not set up a system to alert residents could be blamed for the losses.
Lee Soo-jun, a former professor of civil engineering at Seoul University, estimated that there are “more than a million sites” in the country that are vulnerable to landslides, but said only a tenth of those sites are monitored by authorities.
Lee also said that regional governments have been focusing more on spending on recovery than on prevention when it comes to natural disasters.
“When it comes to allocating disaster budgets, (South Korea) local governments use 30% of that for prevention measures and 70% for disaster recovery,” he said.
“In developed countries, 70% is devoted to prevention and 30% to recovery, with recovery prioritized over prevention.”
By Ju-min Park and Hyun Young Yi
(Reporting by Jo Min Park, Hyun Young Yi and Hyunsoo Yum; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Tom Hough)