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Mayor calls for heat wave to be designated natural disaster

Aug 04,2018
The mayor of Seoul is using his month-long residency in a neglected neighborhood of the city to bring attention to populations that are most vulnerable to this summer’s extreme heat.

Mayor Park Won-soon, who is living in a small rooftop house without air-conditioning in Samyang-dong, northern Seoul, said on Thursday that he is pushing the city council to designate heat waves as a natural disaster, which would allow the government to provide compensation to people who fall ill from the heat.

“Heat waves are a natural disaster,” Park wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday. “Millions of livestock are dying, fruits and crops are being burned, roads are cracking and cars are burning up in the heat. I have ordered the city government to designate heat waves as a natural disaster and to strengthen measures to protect those especially vulnerable to heat waves.”

Park announced that the city government and its contractors would cease all outdoor work in the capital, including construction, during afternoons of “extreme heat waves.” Workers, he said, should still be paid their day’s wages.

The mayor did not specify he what meant by “extreme heat waves,” though the government typically issues a heat wave advisory when temperatures are expected to exceed 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) for two or more days.

A heat wave warning is issued when the high is expected to be over 35 degrees Celsius for more than two days.

The central government is also looking into designating heat waves as a natural disaster, which would allow the government to provide compensation to people who fall ill or die from heat and to farmers for livestock deaths.

Between the end of May and July, 2,326 people fell ill from the heat and an additional 29 died from heat-related illnesses, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said 3.16 million chickens, 177,000 ducks and 15,800 pigs had died throughout the country this summer because of the heat.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Wednesday that it would provide a fan or cooling mat to 1,200 households who spend more than 10 percent of their income on appliance purchases and utility bills.

The city government is also running 3,500 air-conditioned cooling centers that will be open to the public during the day. About 420 of them will be open until 9 p.m. every day. The government is sending about 1,000 officials to check on senior citizens living alone.

The Ministry of the Interior and Safety has allocated about 10 billion won ($8.87 million) to local governments to build public facilities that help locals cope with the heat.

This includes installing large umbrellas and water sprinklers on the streets.

The temperature in Seoul peaked at 39.6 degrees Celsius at 3:36 p.m. on Wednesday, an all-time high since records started being kept in 1907, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.

At the mayor’s rooftop house in Samyang-dong, the temperature inside his room reached 37 degrees Celsius at midnight on Thursday, according to the city government.

“The heat stays inside the room even at night,” said Yang Ho-kyung, one of Park’s policy aides. “We keep waking up at night because it’s so hot. Opening the windows doesn’t help much.”

The mayor has been living in the rooftop house since July 22 to experience the life of locals before drafting policies for developing the area later this year.

Some people are helping the mayor, his wife and aides get through the night. One neighbor delivered four frozen towels to them on Wednesday night. The towels helped, Yang said.

Another local resident gave Park a homemade cooling fan made out of a Styrofoam box filled with ice and attached to a portable fan.

On Friday, Park met with a group of bus drivers based in Gangbuk District, northern Seoul, to learn about how their work environment can be improved during heat waves.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, LIM SUN-YOUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]