[Viewpoint] Working together prevents disasters

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[Viewpoint] Working together prevents disasters

Despite the Korea Meteorological Administration’s announcement that the monsoon season was over, record-breaking rainfall over two days resulted in serious damage and casualties.

Such odd weather is no longer considered an “anomaly” but has become routine in Korea.

Now, we need to establish a disaster prevention system to respond to the changing climate. We should not stop at simply building a few walls and expanding sewage pipes in the affected areas.

By preparing a multi-step plan, Korea can have a system in place for a subtropical climate.

At the same time, we need to review and reconsider the roles of relevant parties in Korean society.

The roles of the central government and local government agencies are of the highest importance. Reckless and imprudent development is seen as the cause of the latest landslides.

Both the central and local governments had pursued development as their priority to promote the welfare of residents and to boost the local economy. Local residents, in turn, welcomed the development-oriented policies.

It was widely considered that easing development regulations was the best choice. However, we forgot to be considerate of nature and have a long-term perspective on what development would bring.

No one paid much attention to the value of undeveloped land.

Local governments and various agencies did not coordinate their development policies, approvals and authorizations, and they did not consider the possible side effects.

Korea already has systematic tools to review the impact of a disaster: the flood prevention standards for each district and the designation of areas vulnerable to natural disasters under the Basic Laws on Disaster and Safety Management and the Laws on Natural Disaster Countermeasures.

However, enforcement of the laws has been only perfunctory, and they did not prove to be effective for this year’s floods. Moreover, development encompasses housing, roads and infrastructure while emergency response is divided among different agencies, making communication among the agencies difficult.

The National Assembly and local councils have to play a crucial role as well. The National Assembly should have taken the initiative to legislate and revise the laws to establish a new disaster prevention and response system for the changed climate.

Specialized and specific laws for each field should be prepared rather than the existing basic law. The Japanese Diet has enacted a law to respond to the flood damage in specific towns in 2004.

Also, enough funding should be secured. The National Assembly needs to allocate a sequence of budgets for several years for projects such as the National Landslide Hazards Program and make extra effort to give them priority.

Local councils should also proactively make related rules and regulations and allocate funding.

Residents must also play an active role. Regarding the installation of the landslide prevention structure on Mount Umyeon, private land ownership led to various complications and restrictions. In fact, it is not easy to build public structures and facilities on privately owned land. Therefore, local residents need to cooperate for the safety of the community.

Of course, the landowners should be compensated accordingly. The central government alone cannot meet all the complicated and multilayered administrative needs without the cooperation of civilians and local agencies.

Moreover, local residents need to get involved and cooperate to oversee these programs. Using the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, they should check on the heads of local government bodies, local councils, the president and the National Assembly.

The most fundamental duty of a nation is to protect the lives, safety and property of its citizens. But they were not properly protected in the recent flood.

The nation has to go back to the drawing board and review the situation. By mending the scars of the disaster, we need to prepare for the future.

If we only point fingers at the superficial causes of the landslides and flooding, the same tragedies will be repeated again and again.

We need to change the fundamentals. The government, the National Assembly, the local governments and the citizens all have crucial roles. We can only prevent future disasters when all of us work together.

*The writer is a professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Law School.

By Choi Seung-pil
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