A severe heat wave is gripping the Korean Peninsula, causing heat-related deaths and damaging crops. This extremely hot weather, however, shows little sign of going away.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), the mercury shot up to 41 degrees Celsius in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, Wednesday, the highest in the 111 years the country has been compiling data. The temperature also rose to a record high 39.6 degrees in Seoul.
The peninsula is heating up under the influence of a North Pacific anticyclone which is gathering strength from continental high pressure stemming from Tibet. It is as if the country is trapped in a “heat dome.”
To the dismay of the public, however, there are no effective measures to prevent different types of damage arising from the extreme heat. The authorities have only issued heat wave warnings, advising people, particularly children and the elderly, to stay inside, refrain from outdoor activity and drink sufficient water.
Facing criticism for doing little or nothing about the scorcher, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon instructed government ministries and public organizations to stop work at public construction sites during the daytime or delay the work for several days to avoid heat-related damage.
Lee also recommended civilian construction sites follow suit. He called on the authorities to strengthen oversight on builders to make them strictly comply with safety rules to protect workers. He also urged farmers and fishers to refrain from working during the daytime.
The Ministry of the Interior and Safety convened a meeting at the national emergency management center at Cheong Wa Dae with officials from 17 major cities and provinces attending to work out measures to tackle the heat. The officials discussed ways to minimize deaths and damage by releasing guidelines on how to deal with the sweltering weather.
But those measures are not sufficient to solve the problem. Most of all, the National Assembly should no longer delay a revision bill to include heat waves on the list of natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, droughts and earthquakes. The bill has long languished in the Assembly because lawmakers of rival political parties are mired in partisan struggles.
Lawmakers should be held accountable for their failure to pass the bill. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) belatedly said it will push for the approval of the bill this month. Yet no one knows when the Assembly will pass the bill, and even if it is passed immediately, it will take some time before it becomes law.
Twenty-eight people have died of heat-caused health problems this summer. More are likely to fall prey to the unprecedented heat wave. We urge the government to take comprehensive and fundamental measures to minimize the effects of the “murderous” heat. The Moon Jae-in administration faces a crucial test of how to deal with the scorcher.