Korea reduced average disaster death toll by 79 per cent with its two-prong preemptive climate change response, said Dr Yeon-Soo Park, Administrator, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Of the disasters reported globally, 38 per cent of them occur in Asia Pacific. However, this region accounts for 89 per cent of disaster victims worldwide, according to a 2010 report by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Total mortality from tropical cyclones and floods is the highest here compared to anywhere else in the world.
“Korea is extremely concerned about the effects of climate change because of the massive losses in human lives and property,” Dr Park told over 100 senior leaders in government and critical infrastructure at FutureGov’s Disaster Management Response and Recovery Forum 2010.
Park explained the escalating pressure faced by the Korean government: “the rise in temperature in our country is almost double that of the global average of 0.74 degree celsius. And the sea-surface temperature is increasing at 1.4 degree celsius in Korea, compared to the average of 0.5.”
In response to this risk, the National Emergency Management Agency was formed in 2004. Its strategy was to strengthen the national disaster management system and its response capacity.
Legislation and organisational structure is essential to lay a strong foundation for Korea’s national disaster management system, according to Dr Park. “We have 19 acts covering prevention and response of all types of emergencies and disasters, such as earthquakes, hazardous materials, wind and flood, small river improvement, and so on.”
NEMA’s 550 employees take on the various functions in training, standards, legislation, system development and such during ‘peace’ time. When an emergency occurs, NEMA transforms into a unified control tower for 230 local government agencies, 202 fire stations and 38 central agencies. This structure – of centralising during critical times – increases efficiency while keeping cost low.
The Korean government observed that it has spent large amount of money every year in recovery after a disaster happens. From 1998 to 2007, natural disasters cost the country damages of US$1.9 billion and recovery cost of US$3.1 billion annually.
“We want to move from ‘cost of recovery’ to ‘investment in prevention and mitigation’. Last year (2009), disaster prevention funds surpassed 1 trillion Korean won (US$861 million). It provided us with the opportunity to make this paradigm shift in policy from recovery to prevention,” he added.
Dr Park believes that technology will play a key role in the strengthening of Korea’s response capacity. “The Korean government developed a comprehensive disaster information system fro disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Other systems include automated rainfall warning system, automated disaster damage survey system, TV broadcasting system and earthquake response system,” he concluded.