Border Area Seriously Short of Emergency Shelters

      April 13, 2013 08:07

      There is serious shortage of emergency shelters near the inter-Korean border, especially in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, and Gangwon Province.

      Emergency management authorities on Tuesday said that the country needs a total of 380 shelters in the border regions, but by the end of last year only 62 had been completed.

      The government hastily built more shelters after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. At the time, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security spent W53 billion (US$1=W1,139) to build new shelters in the five islands in the West Sea off the North Korean coast.

      The National Emergency Management Agency also conducted a study from April to August in 2011 to establish how many shelters are needed in the border regions and arrived at the figure of 380. It built 56 of them the same year but only another 17 in 2012. This year it plans to build another 20. At this rate it would take over a decade to build all 380.

      The agency cites budget constraints for the slow progress. Each shelter costs W600 million, so all 380 would cost W170 billion. An NEMA official said this would be "unrealistic." "There could well be population and landscape changes in these areas that could alter demand in few year's time," the official added.

      A shelter under construction in Ganghwa Island, Incheon

      South Korea started building evacuation shelters in 1975, but the project was virtually suspended in the late 1990s since rapid urbanization and industrialization meant many buildings had their own underground facilities.

      Instead, the government designated underground car parks, basements of apartment buildings and subway stations as evacuation points.

      But critics say even purpose-built shelters cannot guarantee the people's safety since they cannot be perfectly sealed against chemical attacks and lack gas masks.

      An NEMA official said, "The shelters we are building in the border areas are just for temporary evacuation from bombardment. They cannot protect people from chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks or accommodate them for longer periods."

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