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Record Heat in South Korea Prompts Talk of Including Extreme Heat as a “Natural Disaster”

By Juni Kim

A relentless and unprecedented heat wave continues to scorch South Korea with little relief in sight. Cities across the country have recorded all-time high temperatures in recent days, with temperatures peaking above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday that ten people have died due to heatstroke, with seven deaths occurring just last week, and over a thousand people have suffered from heat-related illnesses

The continuing heat wave has prompted concerns of mass electricity shortages as power demands reach record numbers. The Korea Electric Power Corp reported multiple blackouts across South Korea over the weekend, including in the major cities of Seoul, Busan, and Gwangju.

Paik Un-gyu, the nation’s Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy, acknowledged the record demand in a parliamentary report made yesterday. Despite the outages, he reassured that the South Korean government “will be fully ready for the stable power supply this summer.” In order to meet the increased electricity demand, two offline nuclear plants, Hanbit 3 and Hanul 2, will be brought back online in August and scheduled maintenance for plants Hanbit 1 and Hanul 1, originally planned for mid-August, will be postponed.

In a cabinet meeting held earlier today, President Moon Jae-in recommended that heat waves be included on the natural disaster list designated by the Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety. He stated, “I urge you to recognize the prolonged heat wave as a form of special disaster and once again carefully review related measures.” His comments follow talk from the Ministry of Interior and Safety to revise the current disaster law to include extreme heat. The Ministry has already taken measures to address the heat wave, including an additional 6 billion won ($5.3 million) of funding announced earlier today to help local governments handle the problems caused by the unprecedented heat. The funding follows an initial provision last month that provided 4 billion won to cities and provinces.

Unfortunately, South Koreans can expect little relief in the coming days as weather forecasts expect the heat wave to continue until the end of the month. To help beat the heat, South Koreans have taken to traditional summertime foods like samgyetang, a hot chicken and ginseng soup. While eating soup may seem like an odd tactic for combating hot weather, it follows an old Korean saying to fight fire with fire (이열치열). According to the online retailer Gmarket, sales of chicken and duck, both associated with helping to increase stamina, have increased 57 percent and 167 percent compared to sales numbers last year.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from eLjeProks’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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