[EDITORIALS]Fiddling While Rome Burns

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[EDITORIALS]Fiddling While Rome Burns

We would like to ask the government what it is doing about the people's suffering in the face of the worst drought in history and the serial job actions by labor unions. The government's role is to minimize the harm and inconvenience to the people by being prepared for all crises and contingencies. But looking at its responses to the drought and the strikes, we think nothing much has changed in the government's reaction: underestimating reality and dealing with urgent issues with an easy-going and passive manner. Seoul did, to say the least, too little, too late.

The strikes that began on Tuesday have been forecast for some time, and it was also recognized that the Korean Air pilot strike was the driving force behind them. Granted that there is a limit to what the government can do in affairs between the company and labor, the government should have taken preventive measures against a situation in which the lives of people, international trade and international travel would be critically affected; it should have averted the pilots' strike that caused the "air fiasco." It is appalling that the Minister of Construction and Transportation did not even call for a meeting of related ministries to discuss the issue, let alone come up with preventive measures. The general strike called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions was also known in advance, but it was not until the day before the strike that the prime minister and labor-related ministers held a meeting. This is another example of how much the government lagged in perceiving signs of crisis and then responded in a easy-going manner.

The drought is another example. A natural disaster is invariably more difficult to foresee than a labor strike, and formulating adequate responses is also more difficult. But when rain stops falling for over two months, the seriousness of the situation is not that hard to see. But ministers did not meet until last week, and an emergency committee to cope with drought damage was set up on Wednesday only after an order by the president. Just through this chronology of events, it is not difficult to see how unconcerned the government was to the seriousness of the problem.

The relief measure produced belatedly were almost carbon copies of the measures taken in the drought of 1994 - providing irrigation pumps and supplying portable water to drought-stricken communities. It is questionable whether those measures alone would have been of any use if the media had not launched a donation campaign for financial assistance and the military and the private sector had not extended a helping hand on their own initiative. The 138 billion won ($107 million) in government assistance announced Wednesday is only emergency aid for residents of the drought-stricken areas. It is hardly enough to compensate for the losses suffered by farmers.

We are once again seeing the government's incompetence in preventing and responding to crises. Similar crisis situations will recur in the future. Droughts, in particular, are prone to occur in consecutive years. Even disregarding the possibility of droughts, serious water shortages are predicted in the near future - a shortfall of 1.8 billion metric tons annually by 2011. The government devised a plan to build 12 reservoirs, but construction will take up to 10 years to complete. Considering the absence of concrete planning so far and expected resistance by environmentalists, we are concerned that drought damage will continue to accumulate in the future. It is time for the government, beginning with the labor and transportation ministries as well as the prime minister's office, to take swift and adequate actions.
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