Coping with a megadrought

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Coping with a megadrought

The government will provide financial assistance worth 14.6 billion won ($12.9 million) to 103 rural areas suffering dire shortages of farming water supplies, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs on Friday. The money will be spent to develop underground water and build new pumping stations and reservoirs. The measures, however, won’t likely be enough the drench the severely parched central region hit with its longest and worst dry spell on record.

The country has been plagued with a three-year drought streak. Accumulated precipitation stood at 762 millimeters (30 inches) as of October this year, just 62 percent of the annual average. A major pickup in water level for this year cannot be expected, as two thirds of Korea’s annual precipitation comes from the summer rainy season. Experts warn of a mega-drought, or a prolonged drought lasting more than a decade, for the country. The Japan Meteorological Agency three years ago issued a dreadful long-term forecast. It predicted that monsoons vital to agriculture and drinking water supplies to Asia may no longer reach Okinawa in Japan or Shanghai in China due to global warming from 2075. If this turns out to be true, the Korean Peninsula would be gripped with a megadrought. The country must come up with action plan soon.

Korea’s annual precipitation is about 1.6 times above the global average. But the country is included among the United Nations list of water-short countries. It can only make use of about 27 percent of its rainfall because of a shortage in dams and reservoirs.

The authorities must not drag their feet due to opposition from environmental activists and residents.

The government must consider building a multi-purpose dam with reservoir capacity of less than 100 cubic million tons and raising the walls of reservoirs. It also must study renewing construction of the dams in Dongang River and Mount Jiri River. Safeguarding the environment is important, but so is securing water for the people.

At least four different offices - the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and local governments - have a stake in water policy. Emergency actions for water-short South Chungcheong have been delayed because different offices claim different roles and responsibilities.

Water shortage has been cited as the third-largest global risk by the World Economic Forum, after a fiscal crisis and unemployment. Water crisis is not a future catastrophe. It is today’s problem. The government must act.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 26, Page 34
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