Posts tagged South Korea
Posts tagged South Korea
The recent floods in Seoul have caused the biggest casualties and property damage of the past few decades.
I was choked up with emotion watching the miserable disaster: Gangnam, southern Seoul, was flooded, cars were submerged in water. College student volunteers lost their lives in a landslide in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province. And both the houses and small stores of the less wealthy were totally inundated in the central part of the country. Seoul, the capital of a major economic power, was ruined by heavy rains, especially in its thriving central and southern areas. How could this happen?
There are a few reasons. First, the flooding was allowed to become more serious than it should have been because politicians tend to pay attention to what they can see (for example, luxurious buildings, nice bridges, and flashy fountains), but not to what is not easily noticeable (such as a sewage system or underground drainpipes). I have seen political leaders attend ceremonies for the completion of state-of-the-art government buildings, but never for the completion of a sewage system.
A second reason lies in a puzzling official statement the Seoul City official in charge of the drainage systems made when asked about the Gangnam disaster. He said that in comparison to Gangbuk (northern Seoul), where it is easier to drain rainwater due to steeper slopes and mountains as well as the proximity of the Han River and other open channels, Gangnam is a flat area too far from the Han River.
This may sound plausible to laymen; however, as the head of a civil engineering company for about two decades in the U.S., I get angry hearing this response. It is hard to accept this attitude of trying to avoid the blame with this kind of irresponsible answer. If the area is flat without mountains, they should have buried the pipes in a way to give them adequate slope.
I wonder if this was a case of irresponsibly bad construction done to cut costs, since creating a slope would require more pumps and cost more money. They say that the size of the pipes was too small to hold the water that came out from the manholes; I wonder why they didn’t use a larger sized pipe in the first place.
The standards they took in their design must have been low. It looks like they just tried to bear up a few days, thinking that people will forget about this when the sun comes out and the water is drained in a few days. Perhaps they will blame the lack of budget and manpower. It’s the same old story.
A third reason is that the drainage pipes should have, but were not, flushed regularly. As a matter of fact, the flooding occurred not very far from the Han River. To avoid a landslide, a prevention team should have been formed to make a regular examination.
Instead of blaming mountain-climbing trails, preventive measures should’ve been taken. There should have been frequent field examinations of embankments over 4 feet high so that additional construction reinforcements could have been taken in advance.
The fourth and final reason is that, even though it is of no use to probe wrongdoings after lives had been lost from landslides, there should have been a master plan to prevent this kind of disaster and avoid international disgrace. Korea is a leading nation in the world in civil engineering technology.
However, after the world has seen the flooding of luxurious houses and people buried in landslides in Gangnam, Korea’s civil engineering reputation will be badly hurt. This might be why people lament the third-world politics that hold back economic progress.
Of course, failing to prepare for the unexpected level of torrential rains is understandable to a degree. However, in the U.S., in many cases their civil engineers take the level of heavy rains that would occur once in a hundred years as the standard for their design of drainage systems.
Even though they still have floods in many places after heavy downpours, I have never heard of this sort of flooding happening in the middle of a U.S. capital. It is an undeniable shame that this disaster happened in a major metropolitan area like Seoul, and especially in Gangnam, with its host of ultramodern buildings.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).