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[Editorial] N. Korea’s Water Discharge

Posted September. 09, 2009 21:46,   


Six South Koreans went missing yesterday while camping downstream at the Imjin River as North Korea released water from a dam without warning. The river’s water level doubled from 2.3 meters to 4.69 meters in a matter of hours. No rain fell on South Korean territory or on the river upstream in the North. The North might have intentionally opened the floodgates of the Hwanggang Dam, which is some 27 kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone, to release massive “water bombs.”

The North should know that many South Korean fishermen and campers flock to the Imjin River on sunny Sundays. Despite the high likelihood of damage, the dam’s floodgates were released in the middle of the night. This is nothing short of attempted murder of civilians. Pyongyang neither informed Seoul of the discharge nor gave an explanation afterward. The water’s release might very well have been a flood attack on civilians.

The Hwanggang and April 5th dams, both of which the North built upstream of the Imjin River, are a serious threat to the downstream areas of Paju and Yeoncheon County in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. The Hwanggang Dam, which is 34 meters high and 880 meters long, can hold more than 300 million cubic meters of water. Of the 5.26 billion cubic meters of water streaming at the river per year, the dam can block up to 2.1 billion cubic meters. When the North contains or releases water in the river, the South stands to suffer. Following the completion of the dam, the water supply to Yeoncheon has declined up to 293 million tons per year. North Korea’s repeated release of water without warning since 2001 has caused South Korean fishermen to lose nets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When the South mentioned this problem in inter-Korean economic cooperation talks in 2003 and 2005, the North promised advance notice of discharges for dams along the Imjin river and Imnam dams (Mount Kumgang Dam). Pyongyang did so in June 2002 and August 2004. The North, however, should no longer use the term “Korean people” as its sudden release of water broke its promise and might have killed six South Koreans. This despicable and ungrateful act comes after the Gyeonggi government gave 2,500 tons of corn worth one billion won (805,000 U.S. dollars) to the North early this month.

North Korean dams have become a practical threat to the South, but nearby residents and environmental groups have opposed the construction of the Hantan River Dam. This has delayed the project more than seven years. South Korea is building Gunnam Flood Control Point in the main stream of the Imjin River and the Hantan River Dam at the tributary of Imjin River, which is a required self-rescue measure. The Hantan River Dam will help the South prevent floods and secure a water resource. Childish selfishness by provincial areas is another reason for the rise in the number of victims and damage.