[Editorial] ‘Imjin disaster’ highlights importance of inter Korean cooperation

Posted on : 2009-09-08 11:40 KST Modified on : 2009-09-08 11:40 KST

One cannot help but express regret over the fact that the disappearance and death of six South Koreans in Imjin River flood waters could have been prevented if only there had been advance notification from North Korea. North Korea’s conduct runs counter to the 1971 Declaration of Asuncion on the Use of International Rivers, which calls on members to do other countries no harm when using international rivers and to cooperate with one another in the development and use of water resources. It also runs counter to a 1997 accord on the non-navigational use of international rivers. North Korea must take steps to sufficiently explain what happened and cooperate in order to prevent another disaster like this from occurring in the future.

The South Korean government must also be held accountable. Even if North Korea suddenly released a lot of water from their dam, the response by relevant South Korea’s authorities had been poor. First, although South Korea’s military authorities learned of the situation and had sufficient time to prevent casualties, they failed to convey relevant information to civilian bodies. We are simply appalled by the explanation of military authorities that their role is to prevent North Korean incursions, and Yeoncheon County, the Han River Flood Control Office and other water resource management authorities are responsible for flood prevention while the police and local governments are responsible for alerting civilians of disasters. This explanation is nothing more than an extreme display of self-preservation, where the military is more engrossed in avoiding responsibility than in protecting the lives of citizens. One cannot easily dismiss the fact that the expensive automated flood warning system failed to operate as well. It would not be excessive to say that the relaxed attitude in which the system was not regularly checked stole the lives of South Koreans.

Some quarters of the government and society are expressing the opinion that the flood was intentional on the part of North Korea or represents a “water attack.” This is excessive, especially when there is no proof North Korea did this intentionally and when the fundamental duty to prepare for emergencies and protect its people rests with South Korea. If you consider that inter-Korean relations have worsened greatly since the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration and that the plain of the Imjin River floods often, government authorities, including the military, should have been prepared more thoroughly prepared for emergency situations.

The South Korean government must squarely face that as long as it fails to build an inter-Korean system of cooperation, matters like these could repeat at any time. Inter-Korean authorities have discussed the issue of flooding on the Imjin River continuously since the June 15, 2000 inter-Korean summit, and in 2004, an agreement on flood prevention on the Imjin River had been reached. As inter-Korean relations worsen, this agreement has become nothing more than a scrap of paper. To fail to look at this incident in the big picture of inter-Korean relations and to respond to it emotionally and in a piecemeal manner will just make it worse.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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