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Bracing for a major drought

Posted June. 24, 2012 22:52,   


Precipitation in Seoul between May and Sunday was just 6.4 percent of the average in a given year, the lowest since the country began weather observation in 1908. Fire engines were mobilized to spray trees on the streets that did not get enough water. Aquatic plants in Paro, Chungju and Soyang lakes in the upper regions of the Han River were exposed due to falling water levels. Almost 3,600 hectares of land in Gyeonggi, South Chungcheong and the Jeolla provinces are suffering from drought and water at 285 reservoirs has disappeared. The number of senior citizens sent to emergency rooms due to a heat wave is also increasing.

The Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul has raised the drought index to “very risky” for 76 percent of the country. As such, a severe drought is expected to wreak havoc on agriculture this year. With the deadline for rice planting (June 20) already passed, rice growers who depend on rainfall for water should shift to alternative crops. North Korea is no exception to the drought. The annual rainy season is expected to begin at the end of this month, later than in an average year (June 20-23). If the season begins, the country should brace for heavy rains.

Snow covering Central Asia began melting from late April due to global warming, causing the surface of the earth to directly absorb solar heat. This is blamed for the two-month drought and high temperatures on the Korean Peninsula. Climate change is a global phenomenon, but the peninsula has been hit hard through heat waves, drought, unprecedented floods and ensuing landslides over the past several years.

Climate change is expected to cause a water shortage in Korea of 380 million tons every year from 2040, or 3,500 times the drinking water residents of Gangwon Province used last year. Water shortages in the Geum River basin are expected to grow three-fold and the Han, Nakdong, Yeongsan and Seomjin rivers will also be hit by drought. The only way to survive this impending water crisis is to build dams and reservoirs.

The Lee Myung-bak administration has built many dams and reservoirs through the four-river restoration project. Regions in North Gyeongsang Province, which have suffered from drought at this time of year, are known to benefit from the Sangju and Gumi reservoirs. Thought their construction is not yet complete, they helped control floods last year. Sixteen multi-purpose reservoirs built along the country`s four major rivers can contain 620 million tons of water, a volume equal to the capacity of six mid-size dams. With climate change progressing, the importance of water management is increasing. The main work of the four-river project has almost been completed, but work for tributaries should immediately begin. Water conduits sending water to areas suffering from lack of water need to be expanded as well.

The final stage of the Doomulmeori project in Yeongpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, where the northern and southern parts of the Han River meet, has been delayed due to objections from four farmers who illegally occupy public land and other external forces. They describe this act as an attempt to promote “organic agriculture,” but their illegal occupation of water areas and sabotage of the water management project must no longer be tolerated.