[VIEWPOINT]Time to roll up our sleevesI was in a taxi in London during a business trip when I first heard about the disaster at the train station in Yongcheon, North Korea. After the usual conversation, the cab driver, who realized that I was from Korea, asked me whether I had heard about the explosion in Korea that reportedly had killed or injured over 3,000 people. Shocked by the news, I began inquiring about the accident as soon as I arrived at my hotel. Even after I confirmed that the explosion occurred in North Korea, I felt confused and sorry.
Probably due to the immense scale of the damage, North Korean authorities immediately notified the international community of the accident, unlike their past behavior. Thankfully, the international community has stretched out helping hands with aid and relief.
The South Korean government also immediately announced rescue measures. Yet, it is regrettable that many plans are temporary remedies. At this moment, providing relief and medical supplies to help victims of the blast must be the top priority. But if we were to display true brotherly love and comfort the pain and suffering, we should seek a way of helping the North on a different level than other countries. We need to actively help the North in the reconstruction of the damaged facilities, from the homes to schools to public buildings.
North Korean authorities are reportedly planning to rebuild 25 public buildings and 800 homes that were destroyed by the explosion and repair 3,600 partially damaged houses. Considering its current economic situation, North Korea cannot easily afford a construction project on this scale. At the inter-Korean meeting held in Gaeseong, North Korea on April 27, Pyeongyang accepted our offer of materials and equipment needed for reconstruction, but refused an offer to send a medical and engineering work force. But Seoul must persuade Pyeongyang, without hurting the pride of the North, more actively with various alternative proposals. Once we have a general agreement, the two Koreas will be able to complete remaining things by dividing the job between the two.
In the reconstruction of the damaged facilities, the most urgent issue is how to finance the project. The government could work on a more systematic campaign to raise donations from citizens, and it can use the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Fund or ask the National Assembly to assign a special budget allocation. In any case, I am sure the citizens would gladly give their consent.
The next quetion is which entity would actually take on the duty of providing aid. We might have to take the North Korean government’s position into account, but it seems that either the government or civilian organizations can take on the job. As circumstances require, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, an agency under the government that provides grant aid and technical support for developing countries, could take charge.
Considering that there are voluntary movements among some companies in the construction industry to extend helping hands to reconstruction projects, we would be able to find the entities to perform the reconstruction easily. Korean architects and contractors can directly participate in the project. Another option could be that while Korean companies oversee the over-all project planning and management, Chinese contractors carry out the construction work. Helping in reconstruction can have far more effects than simply providing food, necessities and medical supplies. In the course of sharing the pain of the North Koreans and sweating together to rebuild the devastated region, we could taste true brotherly love. Using this opportunity, Korean companies and engineers could participate in an overall improvement project of North Korea’s aging social infrastructure, including the outworn railroad system, which was the direct cause of the disaster. At the same time, we could solidify inter-Korean cooperation and provide the momentum to push forward North Korea’s eventual opening.
In order for the cooperation in reconstruction to materialize, we desperately need a change of attitude of both South and North Korean authorities. For the sake of our brothers who are devastated from losing families and homes because of the catastrophic accident, both sides need to set ideology and system aside for the moment. Pyeongyang must allow overland transport of relief goods. The reconstruction work would naturally be accompanied by a large movement of supplies and equipment. Overland transport is necessary for rapid progress of the project. The residents of Yongcheon must be in extreme grief and pain. They should not have to suffer again in the harsh cold in the coming winter.
* The writer is the president of HanmiParsons. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jong-hoon