[Editorial] Immediate disaster relief funds should be sent to Daegu, N. Gyeongsang Province

Posted on : 2020-03-16 17:04 KST Modified on : 2020-03-16 17:04 KST
Medical workers at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu on Mar. 15. (Yonhap News)
Medical workers at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu on Mar. 15. (Yonhap News)

On Mar. 15, South Korean President Moon Jae-in designated Daegu and Cheongdo County, Bonghwa County, and Gyeongsan in North Gyeongsang Province, which have been severely battered in the novel coronavirus outbreak, as “special disaster areas.” This is the first time this designation has been made to fund recovery from an infectious disease, rather than a natural disaster. The central government has declared its resolve to provide robust assistance at the national level. It will also look into extending the designation to other areas, depending on the amount of damage there.

While nowhere in the country is having an easy time of it, the damage suffered by Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province is indescribable. A whopping 83% of South Korea’s cases of COVID-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus, including the transmission cluster at the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji religious sect, and 87% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in Daegu, Cheongdo, Bonghwa, and Gyeongsan. The economy has effectively ground to a halt as residents remain inside as much as possible to slow the spread of the disease. Members of vulnerable groups — such as small business owners, day laborers, and temporary workers — are finding it hard to make ends meet.

Under the Framework Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety, an area that has suffered a natural disaster or large-scale accident can be declared a special disaster area by the president when a national response is required because the resulting damage is too great for the local government to deal with. Following designation as a special disaster area, the extent of the damage is investigated, a recovery plan is drawn up, and 50% of the recovery expenses are covered by the central government. Funding is provided to stabilize residents’ livelihood and housing expenses and to help patients and bereaved families, while various payments — including national and local taxes, electricity bills, city gas bills, phone bills, health insurance premiums, and pension contributions — are either reduced, suspended, or waived. The exact method and scale of support will be decided in deliberations between related ministries and a review by Korea’s Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters (CDSCH).

“The declaration of special disaster areas is the first step in dealing with the damage. The government will be in consultation with Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province to assess the damage and will create a response and recovery plan so that we can share their burden,” said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a CDSCH meeting on Sunday. The authorities will have to reinforce the disease control system through meticulous planning and flawless preparation while ensuring that no residents fall through the cracks in public assistance.

But considering the situation in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the aid ensuing from special disaster area designation will probably not be enough. “In addition to support from the central government, Daegu will be raising 200 billion won (US$164.02 million) to distribute to day laborers and small business owners,” Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said on Sunday. Kwon explained that this money will be raised by reducing the city’s budgets for events and promotions, redirecting funds originally allocated for building a new government office, and collecting donations from the public. The money will then be distributed to help the owners of restaurants, academies, travel agencies, motels, and performance halls who have seen their sales plummet and to help 320,000 day laborers, temporary workers, and taxi drivers keep food on the table.

The government and the ruling Democratic Party are also hoping to further increase the revised supplementary budget, currently amounting to 11.7 trillion won (US$9.59 billion), which is being debated in the National Assembly. Time is running short, since the supplementary budget has to be passed by Mar. 17, but disaster relief allowances should at least be included for the newly designated special disaster areas.

We hope this support from the national government will make it possible for the residents of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province to overcome this crisis.

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

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