Trusting N.Korea Could Prove Disastrous

      September 08, 2009 12:58

      North Korea's Hwang River Dam, which discharged 40 million tons of water on Sunday morning, holds between 300 million to 400 million tons of water, and the North has built two dams each above and below it. Each dam is believed to hold 35 million tons of water. The five dams hold between 420 million and 520 million tons of water and allow the North to control the flow of water down the Imjin River that cuts through the demilitarized zone.

      South Korea's Paldang Dam holds around 244 million tons of water, only about half of what the North's Hwang River Dam holds. The South's Gunnam Dam, slated for completion in 2010 to deal with discharges from the Hwang River Dam, can hold 70 million tons of water. It is only natural for people to wonder whether this would be enough to deal with a simultaneous discharge of 400-500 million tons of water by North Korea.

      Calculating the distance of the Hwang River Dam from South Korea and the speed of its discharge downstream, the government said the Gunnam Dam would provide a sufficient buffer. But that is difficult to accept after witnessing the government's panic and ineptness when just a limited discharge of water from North Korea took South Korean lives.

      The upper stream of the Imjin River is equipped with automatic alarms that alert the area's residents in the case of a rise in water levels, but they failed to go off. The military says one of its sentries notified headquarters of the rising water level, allowing emergency evacuation measures to be taken. But it failed to alert other government branches or provincial authorities. Some frontline bases received no emergency alert either, causing a tank to be trapped between the currents. The military has conducted joint training drills with government and civilian agencies every year to prepare against a North Korean infiltration or major disaster, but when the real thing happened, it proved useless.

      Ever since North Korea built five dams on the Imjin River, South Korea has suffered varying levels of damage each year. Each time the South requested prior notification of discharges, the North repeated the line that it would be "difficult" since the five dams are designed to discharge water naturally when they fill up. It has been two days since six South Koreans died or went missing due to North Korea's sudden discharge of water, but the North has yet to offer a clear explanation. What we are seeing is a repeat of the same behavior by the North as last year, when it refused to apologize after shooting a South Korean tourist in the back and killing her.

      Blindly entrusting our national security on the good will of another country, with no preparation whatsoever to deal with unexpected incidents, amounts to gambling with the lives of citizens. Despite our experience with North Korea's erratic behavior, the only conclusion we can reach is that our government, military and public are sorely lacking in awareness of national security. Only when we are fully prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario will the other side become more cautious. We must take a close look at whether we are partly to blame for this tragedy by having trusted North Korea.

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