Pyongyang should stop irresponsible act
President Moon Jae-in expressed regret over North Korea's recent discharge of water from its dam just north of the inter-Korean border. “If North Korea notifies us in advance of its plans to release water from Hwanggang Dam, it would help us manage water levels in the Gunnam Dam,” Moon said. It is rare for the President to voice a complaint about the actions of North Korea, as he has been pushing policies aimed at reconciliation and cooperation with the North despite resistance from the main opposition party and its conservative supporters.
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea floor leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon also criticized Pyongyang, saying, “The North's decision to discharge water from the dam without warning put the lives of our citizens at risk.” The discharge prompted the local authorities to raise its disaster warning to the highest level, urging residents near Yeoncheon, Paju and the Imjin River, all in Gyeonggi Province to evacuate. Kim called on the Ministry of Unification to lodge a complaint and urge Pyongyang to not repeat such actions, while calling for closer inter-Korean cooperation to jointly tackle any disastrous flooding.
The North's action was completely inappropriate given the already serious flooding in the South and it violated the inter-Korean deal made in 2009 agreeing on the need for prior notice from the North when it discharges water from Hwanggang Dam. The agreement came in the wake of the deaths of six people in Yeoncheol when the North previously discharged water without informing the South in advance. Hwanggang Dam, located 40km north of the Military Demarcation Line was built to generate electricity and has a 350 million ton reservoir.
We believe Pyongyang was desperate to release the water as Hwanghae and Pyeongan provinces there have seen heavy downpours over recent days. But it cannot avoid responsibility for any damage caused by the discharge. It is all the more regrettable as the discharge came at a time when the unification ministry decided to offer $10 million in aid via the World Food Program to help North Korea's women and children.
The North should bear in mind that public opinion is a major factor in the South in determining national policy, including inter-Korean issues. If Pyongyang repeats such improper behavior, it will trigger unfavorable opinion here and could lead many to turn their back on the North.
South and North Korea need to find breakthrough in their stalled relations by expanding mutual cooperation in the health and anti-infectious disease areas as well as disaster relief. Such cooperation is essential in light of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic and the recent flooding in both halves of the peninsula. In addition to the assistance offered through the international organization, the Moon administration has also been active in pushing diverse inter-Korean projects including, for instance, the construction of cultural facilities for the promotion of peace and unification within the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Such projects will gain momentum only with an affirmative reaction from Pyongyang. The regime needs, for one thing, to abide by the 2009 agreement.