South Korea at a Glance
Population: 51.7 Million
Major Threats: Typhoons, Heavy Rains and Subsequent Floods, Heavy Snowfall, Landslides, Drought, Sandstorms
Populations Affected: Rural and Urban Poor Communities, Farmers, Coastal Communities
Locations Affected: Seoul, Incheon, Miryang, Jecheon, Jindo
Industries Affected: Public Assets and Infrastructure, Tourism, Agriculture, Fisheries
Compounding Issues: Multiple Disasters, Increased Vulnerability and Exposure, Lack of Awareness and Preparedness, Limited Capacity and Resources
World Risk Index Ranking: 50
Global Climate Risk Index: 60 (2021)
Situated in Eastern Asia, the Republic of Korea encompasses the southern region of the Korean Peninsula along with more than 3,200 islands. Covering an area of 99,954 square kilometers, it boasts a diverse landscape, with approximately 65% of its territory cloaked in lush forests and 19% dedicated to agriculture. The northern and eastern expanses are characterized by rugged mountains that cascade steeply toward the East Sea. South Korea’s climate is marked by four distinct seasons, featuring summers with abundant rainfall and scorching temperatures, contrasted by cold and dry winters. Spring and autumn bring notable variations in weather patterns. The nation also faces an annual average of 27 typhoons that can affect the western reaches of the North Pacific Ocean.
South Korea grapples with an array of natural hazards, including typhoons, floods, droughts, landslides, snowstorms, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Among these, heavy rainfall and typhoons stand out as frequent and devastating occurrences, often striking during the monsoon season between June and September. The country’s mountainous terrain renders it susceptible to flooding and landslides, with past typhoons like Rusa (2002), Maemi (2003), Ewiniar (2006), and Bilis (2006) inflicting significant damage and loss of life.
In the year 2023, South Korea witnessed its heaviest rainfall in 115 years during the East Asian rainy season, leading to severe flooding and landslides. The provinces of North Chungcheong and North Gyeongsang bore the brunt of this catastrophe, resulting in the loss of at least 47 lives, with three individuals still reported as missing as of July 22, 2023.
Major Threats and Economy
South Korea faces multifaceted economic threats that extend beyond natural disasters, each with the potential to inflict extensive harm on its infrastructure, agriculture, industry, trade, and human lives. These events disrupt societal and governmental functions, eroding confidence and resilience among both individuals and businesses. The economic repercussions of disasters can vary, whether direct or indirect, contingent on factors such as type, severity, frequency, and geographical location.
The country confronts a diverse array of disasters, including recurrent and devastating floods during the summer monsoon season, powerful storms with fierce winds and torrential rain during typhoon season, and epidemics like the COVID-19 pandemic, which engender economic challenges and necessitate lockdown measures. South Korea’s vulnerability extends to additional perils, such as droughts, heatwaves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, wildfires, tsunamis, and atmospheric haze. These disasters exhibit differences in occurrence rates, intensity levels, and geographical distribution, sometimes interacting and compounding their effects.
Climate Change Impacts
South Korea’s susceptibility to various natural hazards, particularly heavy rainfall and typhoons, is exacerbated by climate change. The Korean Peninsula has experienced a 1.7°C temperature increase and a 19% uptick in rainfall from 1912 to 2008, resulting in amplified average rainfall intensity and heightened typhoon intensity. Rising temperatures have far-reaching consequences for human health, agriculture, biodiversity, and energy demand, while sea-level rise triggers coastal erosion, flooding, and infrastructure and ecosystem damage. The country has also observed a surge in extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts, floods, typhoons, and heavy snowfall, leading to casualties, property losses, crop failures, water scarcities, and power outages.
In 2019, South Korea ranked as the world’s seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter, with emissions totaling 698.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Principal sources of emissions encompass energy, industry, transport, and waste. South Korea has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2018 levels by 2030 and strives to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.
South Korea’s intricate topography, monsoon climate, and rapid urbanization expose it to a diverse spectrum of hydrometeorological hazards. These include recurrent and devastating floods during the summer monsoon season, causing substantial damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and human lives. Droughts, especially in the spring, are prevalent and severe, impacting water supply, crop production, and ecosystem well-being. Rising heatwaves, attributed to both climate change and urban heat island effects, pose significant health risks to vulnerable populations. Storms, notably during the typhoon season from July to October, bring strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surges, leading to damage in coastal areas, buildings, and transportation systems. Studies demonstrate substantial economic repercussions arising from these hazards.
Adaptation and Local Context
South Korea’s disaster management policies are grounded in the Act on Disaster Risk Management and Reduction, complemented by several related laws. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) oversees these policies. In the event of a disaster, a specialized task force, the CDSCH, is convened to address prevention, situation management, and relief planning. Additional institutions, such as the National Disaster Management Institute and the National Institute for Disaster Prevention, offer training and technology development in disaster management. The National Safety Management Basic Plan delineates long-term security policies in South Korea.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
Opportunities and recommendations for international donors to support various disaster management programs in South Korea include:
- Support Sendai Framework Implementation: Assist in achieving targets for reducing disaster mortality, economic losses, and infrastructure damage. Integrate disaster risk reduction into development policies and bolster governance.
- Enhance Regional and Bilateral Cooperation on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR): Facilitate collaboration with other countries through initiatives like APADM and the Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Project. Foster the exchange of best practices and offer technical assistance for addressing cross-border challenges.
- Promote Innovation and Technology: Leverage South Korea’s expertise in fields such as ICT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and renewable energy. Develop advanced early warning systems, enhance data analysis capabilities, and encourage sectoral partnerships to enhance disaster risk reduction efforts.