The Government has been working with the people over the past six months to fight a war against COVID-19 that has no end in sight. We are also doing our utmost to surmount the resultant economic crisis. Thanks to our people taking action as the principal agents of epidemic prevention and control, we have become an exemplary country, the most successful in this endeavor without border closures or regional lockdowns. We are also seen as the most successful in terms of managing the economy – to the extent that Korea’s economic growth this year is projected to rank first among the 37 OECD member states. This is attributable to devising swift economic countermeasures based on expansionary fiscal spending and making a strong drive to implement the Korean New Deal initiative.
While pulling together to overcome these national crises, we have come to suffer the nation’s worst flooding ever due to an unprecedented long rainy season and heavy downpours. The situation is grave as people’s safety and lives are under threat. Today’s Cabinet Meeting is being convened for an emergency assessment of the damage caused by torrential rains in order to address this crisis by mobilizing government-wide capabilities.
As of today, this year’s rainy season is our longest and latest-lasting monsoon ever. In particular, it has followed a pattern unlike any of the previous rainy seasons. Intensive, torrential rains have moved back and forth between the central and southern regions over a long period, leaving no area safe from flooding. Destructive landslides and flooding from levees collapsing and rivers overflowing have become frequent occurrences.
The scale of the damage is also very serious. Our country has steadily upgraded its safety management system after going through numerous disasters. Still, we have suffered our greatest loss of lives in the past nine years from extreme weather-driven natural disasters. It is truly very regrettable and heartbreaking, and I extend my deepest sympathies once again. Property damage estimates have snowballed, and thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods. They must feel devastated and frustrated. The Government will do everything possible to get their lives back to normal as soon as possible.
Though the rainy season is in its final stretch, it has yet to conclude. The Government must remain alert to the end. The ground has already weakened considerably, and water levels at dams and rivers have risen to record highs. If localized downpours occur in this situation, the damage would be even more severe. It is necessary to do everything possible to prevent further damage while keeping the 24-hour emergency duty system in place until the rainy season is completely over.
Among other things, I urge you to do all you can to prevent the loss of more lives. Just as it was possible to prevent deaths despite the rupture of a levee, I ask you to make sure that proactive evacuation measures are thoroughly in place for areas at risk. With landmines washed away by localized downpours being found in border regions, residents there are suffering growing anxiety. Sufficient military personnel and equipment should be channeled into detecting landmines in order to protect the safety of residents.
Now is the time for an all-out effort at disaster recovery. The Government has to muster all of its available capabilities for the rapid restoration of roads, railroads, dams, levees and other major facilities as well as inundated houses, shops and farmland.
To prevent any disruption of the recovery effort, I also ask you to review financial support measures from multiple perspectives. Speed is the key to disaster recovery. I urge you to swiftly identify damage and devise measures to provide sufficient financial support by mobilizing all available resources, including reserve and disaster funds.
I hope you pay special attention to assisting farmers, who have been left in a daze by the damage from these localized downpours. I ask you to work hard to help restore flooded farmland and provide emergency support to affected farming households, so they can return to their livelihoods as soon as possible. It is also necessary to actively prevent secondary damage by stemming the spread of diseases and harmful insects as well as by providing agrochemicals and support for cultivation after torrential rain.
Unstable supply and demand for agricultural and fishery products and fluctuating prices can affect the cost of groceries for low-income households. I ask you to take necessary preemptive measures, including the release of public reserves.
Unexpected disasters and catastrophes can occur repeatedly at any time due to global climate change. Though we have continuously raised safety standards and reinforced facilities, we have come to realize the need to strengthen them further still. While overhauling them once more, we must prepare for potential disasters and apply these strengthened standards to the restoration process.
Above all, we must expeditiously upgrade the management and control functions of key facilities to prepare for catastrophes by digitalizing infrastructure. I ask you to give impetus to such digitalization, one of the Korean New Deal’s representative tasks. This includes making river and dam management systems smart by automating flood controls.
The system designed to make disaster responses more effective needs further sophistication. There have been cases where damage occurred because disaster warnings were not delivered within an appropriate period, so people were unable to evacuate in time. There have been many cases like this during landslides in particular. We have to refine manuals related to the detection of hazards as well as to the notification, control and evacuation of people.
Many of our neighbors are suffering from enormous damage caused by torrential rains. Our people have demonstrated community spirit by regarding their neighbors’ hardships as their own, sharing pain and helping each other. Solidarity and cooperation enabled Korea’s response to COVID-19, a globally recognized benchmark. I ask everyone to unite and join forces to overcome the worst flooding in our history. Each and every helping hand – no matter how small – will provide great strength to people in need.