[Viewpoint] Be proud of the KDRTWhen a strong earthquake hit Turkey in July 1999, taking more than 50,000 lives, hundreds of thousands of people were housed in the internally displaced people (IDP) camp. Turkey - an ally that sent its brave troops to the Korean War to help fight for freedom - is a traditional friend of the Korean people. Korea is often referred to as kardish, or “a brother” in Turkish.
It was this deep-seated friendship that prompted our government to immediately organize an emergency relief operation by sending the Korean Overseas Disaster Relief Team (KDRT) to Turkey.
The circumstances surrounding the KDRT at the time were not favorable compared to response efforts stemming from Japan, the United States and Western European countries. Those emergency teams were able to launch far earlier than we did and owned their own aircraft for the mission.
We in the KDRT primarily relied on civilian airplanes and suffered inconveniences along the way to the disaster zone. In addition, due to being inadequately equipped with necessary life-saving equipment, our crew had to enter unsafe areas to identify victims trapped inside the rubble.
The KDRT’s successful rescue operation in saving a boy trapped in a collapsed building for 72 hours following the Taiwanese earthquake in 1999 contributed to the revival of a connection between the two countries. Relations severed in 1992 when Korea formally established diplomatic ties with Beijing.
Above all, the Taiwanese people were deeply moved by the KDRT’s disciplined and devoted crew, who risked their lives by refusing an evacuation order in an aftershock situation and remained with a 6-year-old boy for nearly eight hours.
From this emergency response on, the KDRT has progressed considerably: military aircraft have been provided for missions; advanced equipment to save victims trapped inside collapsed structures have been introduced; and the National Rescue Dog Training Center, established to raise rescue dogs, has produced life-saving K9s.
Early this year, a military aircraft was used in dispatching a 108-strong KDRT along with advanced rescue tools to Japan where hundreds of thousands of victims faced unprecedented difficulties after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. During the mission, the Fukushima nuclear power plant exacerbated the damage by leaking radioactive material, threatening to become the worst nuclear crisis in history.
It looked natural to consider an early pullout. Moreover, the KDRT conducted operations in the closest site from the troubled power plant compared to other teams.
I want to give my heartfelt appreciation to all the efforts, challenges, aspirations and achievements of the KDRT in such a short period of time. I hope that the KDRT will never avoid its responsibility in practicing humanitarian assistance for the people critically hit by disasters all around the world.
*The writer is administrator of the National Emergency Management Agency in Seoul.
by Lee Ki-hwan