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A fine-dust catastrophe

Mar 07,2019
Deprived of nutrients, water and air, a living being will die. A lack of any of these can kill directly or cause fatal illnesses. This is common sense — everything else is secondary to life. The Great Smog of London that lasted for five days in December of 1952 killed more than 6,000 people and made 100,000 people ill. Those forced to breath in Korea’s hazardous air are jeopardizing their lives: this is a major catastrophe.

The air has been dusty and suffocating the nation for days, yet people are left to seek inventive ways to endure on their own. Most people cannot afford to stay inside with an air purifier on all day. They must go to work or to school, and tend to their daily tasks. Mountains and buildings are obscured by the heavy veil of dust. Children are going to end up drawing gray skies instead of blue and donning a gas mask may not be outlandish. An increasing number of people talk of emigrating given they cannot stand the dangerous conditions their children are being raised in.

What infuriates the people most is the government’s casual response. The government promised to combat fine dust in June 2016. The following year was hectic, what with President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. Yet it has been nearly two years since President Moon Jae-in promised to reduce fine dust by 30 percent. The only change under Moon’s administration has been the alerts authorities send to smartphones about the seriousness of current air pollution and lame advice to avoid outdoor activities, as well as restrictions on vehicles from entering the capital. No actions have followed since the vow to conduct an investigation on the Chinese impact and employ diplomatic measures for environmental cooperation. Some suspect Seoul has kept mum on environmental issues for fear of losing Beijing’s support in its policy on Pyongyang. Fossil-fueled power generation cannot be reduced so long as Korea keeps to its nuclear phase-out policy. Yet, the Blue House stays steadfast to go nuclear free.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon lectured the central and local governments to do more. But he is the commander of administrative actions to safeguard public health. The ruling party blames the previous Lee Myung-bak administration for its policy of promoting diesel vehicles as the cause of worsening air pollution. Yet diesel cars were approved by his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.

A government must do what is necessary for its country with the resources and budget it has. Few would complain about money spent to improve air standards for public health. The Moon administration must act immediately to reduce the number of aged diesel cars on the roads and the generation from thermal power stations. It must find ways to lessen pollutants from China. If it had spent some of the energy it put into improving ties with North Korea, air might not have become so disastrous. The government is annoying the people as much as the bad air is.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, Page 30