Prepare for climate change disasters

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Prepare for climate change disasters

Seoul and the capital region have been devastated by the biggest rainfall in nearly a century, causing human and property losses. Rush hours turned into traffic mayhem. Downpours are expected to last throughout the week. Under such circumstances, minimizing casualties should be the top priority. The government must set climate disasters as the “new norm” and come up with a comprehensive response system. Instead of devising makeshift measures to deal with such cases, infrastructure spending should go to securing preemptive readiness against natural disasters.

The rainfall bombardment has been unprecedented. Around 9 p.m. Monday, as much as 417 millimeters (16 inches) of rain poured over Dongjak district in Seoul, far exceeding the average 350 mm monthly precipitation during the summer monsoon period on the Korean Peninsula. In less than a week, 600 to 700 mm poured over Korea. Such extraordinary conditions could become frequent due to climate change. The government must therefore redesign natural disaster response systems under the extreme scenarios.

The posh neighborhoods of Gangnam in southern Seoul have become inundated by the rainfall. Because of relatively low positioning, waters swelled to waist-high at crossroads around Gangnam and Daechi stations. The Seoul Metropolitan Government had spent 1.4 trillion won ($1.06 billion) to upgrade drainage systems across 33 hazardous areas, but the fixes have been not enough.

Even at higher costs, authorities must come up with flooding measures based on extreme climate scenarios. Budgeting won’t be excused if more major flooding happens.

Damage-prone areas from torrential rain are prevalent across the country. Landslides as witnessed in 2011 at Woomyeon Nature Park in southern Seoul can be most dangerous. Reckless development policies have raised the danger. Many mountains have been shaved to make room for solar panels under the last government. Apartment buildings in high valley areas can also be dangerous.

There cannot be perfect protection against natural disasters. Preemptive actions through infrastructure investment can be a realistic action. Infrastructure spending has been scaled back for welfare spending. Local governments had cut back safety-related projects for populist spending. Prioritization of budget spending should be realigned before it is too late.
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