Sunday, July 31, 2011

Climate Change in Korea

After a two day break, monsoon is back. But the monsoon season is supposed to be over, and those record breaking downpours that are drowning Korea and killing dozens raise again the issue of climate change.

In this country, everything moves 빨리 빨리. Even the weather. Korea has already experienced dramatic changes over the past 100 years : average temperatures have gained 1.8 degrees celcius, winters are 2 to 3 weeks shorter and summers 2 to 3 weeks longer, Jeju-do has become a semi-tropical island, and extreme years have multiplied since 1991.

Over the past 20 years, I did experience extreme episodes firsthand, mostly typhoons or flash floods transforming streets into rapids*, or the staircases of a downtown subway station into mini-Niagara falls. But I never saw the Hangang completely frozen, except on pictures from the 50s. And I've had my share of fantastic years with mild winters and pleasant summers.

We already knew Korea was at some kind of frontier, and thus more likely to major changes : if Vladivostock is not far away, its harbor is often caught in ice during the winter, unlike those of the whole peninsula (even if the North, more mountainous, usually faces tougher winters than the South). That's one of the reasons why the federation invested in the Rajin-Sonbong Economic Special Zone in North Korea (Rason / Raseon logistic hub).

Ironically, as they pressed for more food relief, Pyeongyang propagandists forged just a few days ago a photo showing floods that didn't exist... Photoshop doesn't seem that necessary now. Images from the South are also hard to believe, but they are unfortunately true : the tragic landslides in Chuncheon or Umyeongsan**, cars crushed or drowned like toys...

Water's power of destruction showed no mercy for such wealthy areas as Daechi-dong (Gangnam-gu) or Bangbae-dong (Seocho-gu), but miraculously spared Seoul's fragile "moon villages" (generally close to mountain tops). Among the Umyeong-dong victims of the landslide, the wife of Shinsegae's chairman died in her own cellar. And another mudslide hit Ihwajang, the former home of President Syngman Rhee in Hyehwa-dong. Mobile networks went down at the heart of Gangnam, home to the new Samsung HQs and Teheran-ro start ups.

The powers that be have all been humbled and forced to reconsider their scenarii, up to the plans they had updated last year. Seoul and Korea will adapt once more, and one can hope today's tragedies will foster positive changes in urbanism and environment.

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* like last Chuseok (see "
Chusoaked"), or my wet dog moment in 2008 (see "open air pool")
** Seoul Arts Center was hit, but Cezanne & co ("
Musee d'Orsay in Seoul") are safe, but there too, many people died.

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